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Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006

JAPAN SERIES

Dragons, Fighters set to battle


Staff writer

NAGOYA -- The Japan Series will begin Saturday at Nagoya Dome, when the Central League champion Chunichi Dragons lock horns with the Pacific League-winning Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

News photo
Kosuke Fukudome is hoping to lead the Chunichi Dragons to their first Japan Series title since 1954. KYODO PHOTO

Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, so here is a comparison of the teams with a look at who will bring home the Japan Series title and why.

Three reasons why the Dragons will win:

1. Their top arms are experienced -- Kenshin Kawakami and Masahiro Yamamoto are veteran arms who have been around a long time and aren't likely to be fazed by the big stage in the Japan Series. Kawakami has nine years of big-league stripes, and Yamamoto -- who threw a no-hitter during the regular season -- is 41 years old and has 23 years in the pros. With rookie Tomoya Yagi and second-year star Yu Darvish -- who were brilliant in the PL playoffs -- leading the way, the Fighters have built on a youth movement.

2. They have both CL MVPs -- Kosuke Fukudome and Tyrone Woods have both had seasons that cannot be ignored. Fukudome led the league with a .350 batting average, hitting 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Woods hit .312 with out-of-sight power numbers, driving in 144 runs and hammering 47 homers. Those two are going to be trouble every time through the order.

3. They are playing for CL pride -- The Central League was humiliated last season when the Chiba Lotte Marines swept the CL champion Hanshin Tigers, outscoring the hapless Koshienites 30-2 in the first three games. The CL will have playoffs from next season, but right now, Chunichi is going to do whatever it takes to make a better showing for the CL.

Three reasons why the Fighters will win:

1. They don't beat themselves -- Nippon Ham showed poise during the stretch run of the season in taking the PL's top seed for the postseason, and when it came time to knock off the rust of a 13-day layoff in the second round of the postseason, the Fighters showed they hadn't lost an inch. Most of the games during that time were tight, and Nippon Ham held on like a pit bull every chance it got.

2. They could seal a ship with their defense -- One of the mainstays of Trey Hillman's managerial style is defensive accountability, and the Fighters have not had to take too many licks on that front, especially of late. Whether it is the awesome outfield defense of Hichori Morimoto and Tsuyoshi Shinjo or the infield wizardry of Michihiro Ogasawara and the third baseman du jour in Sapporo, Nippon Ham can break out web gems at any time.

3. They are not going to lose at home -- It would take a minor miracle for the Dragons to win more than a game at Sapporo Dome, unless some very unhappy Fighters fans get shut out. The Hawks were punchless even with solid pitching keeping them close, and the hysterical Hammie-loving crowd was as much a cause of it as was most anything that happened on the field.

Prediction: Fighters in six. Everything feels right for Hillman's ballclub right now, but Chunichi is not going to go quietly.



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