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Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009

SPORTS SCOPE

Several NPB managers in danger of losing jobs


As the NPB season begins to head into the stretch run, an unusually high number of mangers find themselves on the hot seat — or at least very warm ones — as the Climax Series races begin in earnest.

Jason Coskrey

Here are some brief observations on the more fluid situations in the leagues:

Yokohama BayStars

Manager: Tomio Tashiro (interim)

Why they may make a change: The BayStars already are working with a fill-in manger in former Taiyo Whales player Tomio Tashiro. He took over for Akihiko Oya, who stepped aside on what the team called a "kyuyo," or basically left to take a rest, on May 18.

The general modus operandi when a manager takes a kyuyo is that the interim skipper turns the team's fortunes around and paves the way for the initial bench boss' triumphant return.

Often, the original manager never comes back, and as bad as the BayStars have been that will likely be the case in Yokohama.

The BayStars have been shut out 18 times this season, have the Central League's highest ERA and one of the worst offenses in Japanese baseball.

There are stars on the roster such as slugger Shuichi Murata and current CL batting leader Seiichi Uchikawa, but another last-place finish is looking inevitable.

Why they may not: It's possible the team could decide to stand pat if they can't find a suitable suitor for the job.

News photo
On the hot seat: Hanshin's Akinobu Mayumi (left) is one of several NPB managers who could be looking for work after posting disappointing results this season. KYODO PHOTO

Orix Buffaloes

Manager: Daijiro Oishi

Why they may make a change: On paper the Buffaloes looked like a pennant contender, with big bats littering the lineup and a young, strong pitching staff that led the team to a second-place finish last season.

The reality, however, has been a different story as injuries have decimated the Orix lineup and there are signs that those young pitchers, who were so good in 2008, either overachieved last season or are underachieving this year.

Last year could have been a case of being in the right place at the right time for Oishi, who was given much of the credit for Orix's impressive second-place finish after taking over at midseason.

Oishi's managing style has also been under fire, with questions of his under-utilizing players and certain inconsistencies when making out lineups, leading to a general feeling of uncertainty and a disconnect between manager and team.

Even with the injuries, the Buffaloes were not expected to be this bad, which could be Oishi's undoing as his fate is reportedly tied to how the team finishes.

Why they may not: Oishi is only in his first full season at the helm. Despite this year's dismal performance, a strong finish could earn the former Kintetsu Buffaloes star a reprieve.

Hiroshima Carp

Manager: Marty Brown

Why they may make a change: The Carp were a trendy pick to reach the Climax Series after making a promising run last season before a late swoon cost them a spot in the playoffs.

Leaving behind bandbox Hiroshima Stadium for the more spacious Mazda Stadium has thus far not produced positive results and the Carp offense has floundered like a fish out of water. Through Thursday the Carp were batting .239 as a team, the lowest average in Japanese baseball.

Brown has had trouble finding and settling on a No. 3 hitter and cleanup batter Kenta Kurihara has not been his normal self, batting .240 with just 16 homers and 53 RBIs after putting up big numbers last season.

Brown's status as the team's manager was a question mark during this past offseason and a third straight B-Class finish will do little to take the former Carp player off the hot seat.

Why they may not: There were rumors of a pending change around this time last year when Brown rallied his troops to a respectable finish.

A strong finish and signs of improvement could convince management to give Brown another season to get things right.

Rakuten Golden Eagles

Manager: Katsuya Nomura.

Why they may make a change: Frankly, Nomura's getting old. Nomura turned 74 in June and it's not certain how long the veteran skipper will be in the dugout.

The franchise began play in 2005 and has grown into a solid team under Nomura, but he can only manage for so long and missing the playoffs may set the stage for his exit.

Why they may not: After floundering for the better part of the summer, the Eagles find themselves back in the thick of the race to reach the Climax Series. The Rakuten manager has hinted that the franchise's first appearance in the postseason could be enough to keep him around for another season.

Hanshin Tigers

Manager: Akinobu Mayumi

Why they may make a change: Mayumi in all likelihood is safe, but a fanatic Hanshin fan base has been out for blood most of the season.

His constantly rotating lineups have not helped a struggling offense. Slugger Tomoaki Kanemoto and midseason pickup Craig Brazell have been the most dependable bats, but the interchanging parts around them have failed to produce up to their lofty standards.

Mayumi has also been quick to tinker with the pitching staff to mostly subpar results and has seemed to be in over his head at times.

The Tigers finished second last season after allowing the Yomiuri Giants to make up a huge deficit and pass them for first place late in the season. They returned mostly intact, save for Mayumi, and the new skipper's growing pains have led to two steps back instead of a step forward.

Why they may not: Recent history suggests that the Hanshin front office will show some patience with its new manager. Mayumi's predecessor Akinobu Okada finished fourth in his initial season in 2004, as did Sennichi Hoshino in 2002.

Both Okada and Hoshino led the Tigers to the Central League pennant in their very next years in charge.

Chiba Lotte Marines

Manager: Bobby Valentine

Why they may make a change: This ship sailed long ago. The team's top brass, led by president Ryuzo Setoyama, announced in December that Valentine would not be offered a contract beyond this season.

Months later, a venomous condemnation by the Marines' fan base has done nothing to change their minds as Valentine — barring an unforeseen development or change of heart — winds down his last season in charge of the team.



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