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Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009
Pitching holds key to PL shakeup
Gaudy pitching numbers may bring home awards and adoration. But it's coming through in the clutch that leads to titles.
More often than not, pitching will make or break a team's season. A lesson the Seibu Lions may have recently learned the hard way.
Over the weekend, the Lions trailed the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles by two games for the last spot in the Pacific League Climax Series with pitchers Takayuki Kishi (12-5, 3.30 ERA entering the weekend) and Hideaki Wakui (15-5, 2.17) set to go.
But instead of hurling them into a tie for third, both went out and pitched duds to allow the Eagles to leave with a comfortable four-game advantage.
Kishi, who was rocked on Saturday, falling to 12-6 after yielding five runs — four earned — in 4 1/3 innings, has been especially disappointing on the hill as of late. He's dropped three straight starts in ugly fashion, becoming more of a hindrance than a help to the Seibu's hopes of reaching the Climax Series.
The Lions' offense has been roaring lately behind G.G. Sato and Takeya Nakamura but their woes on the mound have prevented them from clawing back into the playoff picture.
The Eagles now find themselves a half-game out of second-place heading into a four-game series against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
As was the case with Seibu and Rakuten's race for third place, pitching will be of the upmost importance in the fight for second.
Rakuten will send Hisashi Iwakuma (13-6, 3.10) to the hill for the opener and All-Star Masahiro Tanaka (14-6, 2.28) is likely to take the mound as well.
Toshiya Suguichi and D.J. Houlton are second-place Softbank's top two pitchers, but were both used against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters over the weekend. So the Hawks' depth will be tested as their second-tier pitchers face-off with Rakuten's best.
The Fighters have pitching issues of their own with the uncertain status of ace Yu Darvish, who's out with a shoulder injury. Tomoya Yagi has been a nice complement to Darvish this year but the rest of the rotation.
There may be only a few games left on the schedule, but the jostling for position in the PL is still going strong.
The first-place Fighters lead the Hawks by just 3 1/2 games and there's plenty of time for things to change as the season winds down.
The depth of the contenders' pitching staffs and the performance of their stars over the remainder of the year will go a long way to deciding where everyone ends up when the dust settles.