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Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009

SPORTS SCOPE

New challenge awaits Kyojin after triumph


With the Central League pennant secured, the Yomiuri Giants have a huge challenge ahead of them.

Jason Coskrey

Boredom.

By virtue of winning the pennant, the Giants will receive a first-round bye in the Central League Climax Series and a one-game advantage in the second round, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 22 at Tokyo Dome.

Meaning it will be nearly a month before the Giants play another meaningful game.

There's a lot to be said for wrapping up the title early but it doesn't come without a few challenges.

Clinching the pennant now gives the team ample time to rest its stars, heal nagging injuries and find out which backup players can be of use in the playoffs.

But the free pass into the second stage that was intended to be a blessing can easily turn into a curse.

There's no substitute for live pitching and game situations. Those are two luxuries Yomiuri won't have while the Chunichi Dragons and the CL's third-place team battle it out in the first round of the playoffs.

Which could leave the Giants shaking off the rust against a motivated team already riding a wave of postseason momentum.

It doesn't help that Yomiuri hasn't fared well following prolonged layoffs since the CL introduced the Climax Series format two seasons ago.

In 2007, the red-hot Dragons rolled all over a sluggish Yomiuri squad at Tokyo Dome on its way to the Japan Series. The Giants were still working out the kinks last year as well, again dropping Game 1 of the second-stage to the Dragons.

The one-game advantage will give Yomiuri an important cushion, but anything can happen in the postseason. Those are things to worry about in the Climax Series.

The more pressing issues for manager Tatsunori Hara are the 11 games the team has left in the regular season.

The Giants have been fairly healthy this season, but injuries can happen at anytime. Losing an important player, especially when there's nothing at stake win or lose, could easily derail Yomiuri's hopes of winning the Japan Series.

So Hara will have to play his cards right as he looks for a way to keep his best players fresh and out of harm's way.

The Giants, who have been in first place since April 11, are clearly the class of the CL and maybe all of Japanese baseball.

The challenge now, is finding a way to keep the fire going throughout a long layoff to ensure success in the postseason.


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