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Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008

NPB NOTEBOOK

Buffs flexing muscles as stretch run begins


Staff writer

The Big Boys have finally arrived in Kobe.

Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera each homered for the Orix Buffaloes on Thursday night in a 6-1 victory over the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The victory kept the surprising Buffaloes in second place in the Pacific League standings, four games behind the first-place Seibu Lions and four games ahead of third-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham.

But it's not that the Buffaloes are in second place that is surprising. It's the way they have gotten there.

The Buffaloes had an offseason of discontent following the Jeremy Powell fiasco, then limped through most of the first half of the season. Making matters worse was the sudden departure of manager Terry Collins, heaping even more bad press on the struggling squad.

Interim manager Daijiro Oishi (the interim tag has since been taken away) didn't have a much better start when he took over on May 22, although he managed to keep the team above water.

Orix was 21-28 and in fifth place in the PL standings on May 21 when Collins announced his resignation. By the All-Star break on July 29 Oishi had skippered the team into fourth place and a 47-50-1 mark.

Since the break, Orix has been the hottest team in the league, going 20-10 (through Friday) since play resumed on Aug. 3.

Rhodes did most of the heavy lifting early in the year, but it's been Cabrera who has carried the Buffaloes on their second-half stampede through the Pa League.

Cabrera won his fifth career PL Monthly MVP award last month after batting a scorching .405 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs. He has three homers in September and is batting .321 with 34 longballs and 95 RBIs on the season.

Rhodes has gone deep four times this month, including twice on Thursday, and 36 times this season.

With its two big guns heating up to back a pitching staff headed by youngsters Satoshi Komatsu (12-3, 2.73 ERA) and Chihiro Kaneko (10-8, 3.74), Orix is looking like a safe bet to erase memories of the offseason with a playoff run.

The Buffs are 12-1 over their last 13 games entering a crucial three-game set with Nippon Ham which began Saturday in Sapporo.

The Buffaloes will have a chance to solidify their place in the playoffs in the coming weeks, with five games against the Fighters and three against the fourth-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks between Sept. 13-21.

Chasing Rose: There isn't much to cheer for in Yokohama these days. The season started badly for the BayStars and not much has changed as the year winds down.

Through Friday, the BayStars were in last place in the Central League, 14 games behind the fifth-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and 30 behind league-leading Hanshin.

While Yokohama may be out of the pennant race, fans can still jump behind Seiichi Uchikawa's quest to make a little history.

As of Sept. 12, Uchikawa was batting an NPB-leading .377, 20 points ahead of Yakult's Norichika Aoki, who owns the second-highest average in Japanese baseball.

If Uchikawa can keep up his torrid pace, he will seriously threaten the Japanese baseball record for highest single-season batting average by a right-handed hitter.

The current mark is .369, set by former BayStar Bobby Rose in 1999.



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