BASEBALL | NPB Interleague Report Card: Rating of all 12 teams

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The three-week interleague hiatus in Nippon Professional Baseball ended Sunday, June 12. Below you can see how each team fared. Teams are placed in order of placement. (Record and win percentage in brackets).

1. Tokyo Yakult Swallows (14-4, .778). Rating: A+

The Japan Series champions continued to build their reputation as the best team in the NPB with a stellar performance in interleague play.

They started with a one-game lead over Yomiuri and were seven games ahead of the Giants when they finished the game on Sunday, June 12.

They went 9-1 after losing to the Chiba Lotte Marines on June 1, including a three-game win over powerhouse Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks between June 10-12. Munetaka Murakami hit his Central League-leading 18th and 19th home runs in a 7-4 win over the Hawks on Saturday, June 11. His 19th in the sixth inning was his third grand slam of the season.

2. Hanshin Tigers (12-6, .667). Rating: A+

After a dismal start, the Tigers were in last place when interleague play began.

But the surprising Tigers went on a five-game winning streak beginning June 1. Then, after winning a game of a three-game set with the Hawks, the Tigers finished strong with a three-game win over defending Pacific League champions Orix Buffaloes in the so-called Osaka Derby at the Osaka Dome on March 10-12 June.

Fueled by high-profile players like Koji Chikamoto and Teruaki Sato, the Tigers moved up to fourth place in the CL standings at the end of the Interleague, ahead of Yokohama DeNA BayStars and Chunichi Dragons.

3. Chiba Lotte Marines (10-8, .566). Class: A

The Marines have won six of their last seven against CL teams to put together a good interleague campaign, and it wasn’t down to Roki Sasaki, who threw a perfect game in April.

Sasaki conquered the mound in three interleague games, losing one to the Yomiuri Giants and not receiving a decision in two more games.

Rather, it was players like Ayumu Ishikawa (2-1 in three interleague starts) and former MLB pitcher Enny Romero (2-0) who carried the burden in interleague games. Naoya Masuda has made 14 saves this season, including six in interleague competitions.

At the plate, infielder Brandon Laird caught fire with five home runs and 17 RBIs against the CL teams.

4. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (9-9, .500). Grade: A-

Around halftime, it looked like the Hawks would become interleague champions. They advanced to first place in both the Interleague and PL standings.

But they were swept by the Swallows in their last interleague series and that was the difference between a good result and a very good one.

Kenta Imamiya (.343) and Yuki Yanagita (32 RBIs) led the way at the plate. Nao Higashihama (2-0 in the Interleague) and Colin Rea (2-1) were the two pillars of the starting rotation. Koya Fujii has been rock solid in the middle with three holds and a save in interleague games.

5. Seibu Lions (9-9, .500). Grade: A-

Any conversation about the Seibu Lions’ success this year has to start with Hotaka Yamakawa. The 31-year-old slugger has 20 homers in the league and is second overall in the RBIs with 42 homers. In his first season in NPB, O’Grady hits .262 with eight homers and 30 RBIs.

With a 9-9 record in interleague play, the Lions find themselves third in the PL standings and should be battling for last playoff spot all season.

6. Yokohama DeNA BayStars (9-9, .500). Grade: A-

The highlight of the BayStars’ interleague campaign came when Shota Imanaga became the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Yokohama’s 2-0 win over Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters on June 7 at the Sapporo Dome. It could just as easily be the Fighters’ last move to a new ballpark beginning in the 2023 season.

Another standout performance for Yokohama was beating Shogo Maki, who was named Central League Player of the Month in May after hitting .329 with eight homers and 25 RBIs.

7. Rakuten Eagles (9-9, .500). Grade: A-

After a modest start to the Interleague, winning 3-4 in the first week, the Eagles finished strong, winning four of their last five games, including two of three against the Giants in a streak in which they hit 18 runs.

Hideto Asamura has taken the lead on offense for Rakuten, hitting four homers with 15 RBIs against the CL teams.

Veteran pitcher Takahiro Norimoto won his two interleague starts.

On the other end of the spectrum, former New York Yankee Masahiro Tanaka lost everything.

8. Nipponham Fighters (8-10, .444). Grade B

All in all, Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s fighters performed better than expected against CL teams. The Fighters ended the Interleague on June 12 with a three-game win over the modest Chunichi Dragons, giving up just one run after excellent starts from Takayuki Sato, Naoyuki Uwasawa and Toshiro Sugiura.

Meanwhile, Go Matsumoto remains at the top of the PL with a .358 batting average, and Chusei Mannami continues to impress and now has 10 homers.

They didn’t move up in the PL ranking and are still in last place, but they did better than expected.

9. Orix Buffalo (8-10, .444). Class: C

looking at them are the Defending Pacific League champions, 8-10 in interleague play can only be seen as a disappointment.

The Buffs went 1-6 in the first week and rebounded 6-1 in the first week of June before being defeated by Hanshin.

One of the problems for the Buffaloes in both Interleagues and before was the absence of two-time Pacific League batting champion Masataka Yoshida.

Yoshida tested positive for the coronavirus on May 8 and then injured his left thigh after returning to the team on May 17. He only returned to his first interleague game on June 3, when he won 4-0 against Hiroshima Carp.

10 Yomiuri Giants (8-10, .444). Class: C

Interleague has not been kind to Japan’s most popular team. The Giants trailed Yakult by just one game and are now seven games behind.

One of the problems is starting the nod. Aside from CC Mercedes, Tomoyuki Sugano and Shosei Togo who are 18-9 combined, the rest of Yomiuri’s pitching team is only 8-16 this season.

In the final week of interleague play, the Giants went just 2-5, sealing their fate of finishing 10th overall.

Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami (ⒸSANKEI)

11. Chunichi Dragons (7-11, .389). Class: D

It’s hard to say anything positive about the Chunichi Dragons when it comes to interleague play. They started fourth in the CL classification and now find themselves last.

Before the season, rookie manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami said he didn’t want his players to smile or have fun on the field. At least he achieved that goal.

The Dragons will give the highly-touted two-way talent Akira Neo a chance when the team resumes games against the Central League.

12. Hiroshima Carp (5-13, .278). Grade: D

Not too long ago (2018) the Carp were CL pennant winners. But this is a team that develops talented young players only to see them transition to the greener (i.e. more lucrative) pastures of Yomiuri or MLB.

Yoshihiro Maru and Seiya Suzuki are just two recent examples.

The only really good news is that they started the interleague in third place, just 1½ games behind Yakult, and are still in third place, but are now 10½ games behind.

Roster Update: Lotte Inks Osuna

The Chiba Lotte Marines recently signed controversial finisher Roberto Osuna.

The 27-year-old native of Mexico has proven to be one of the most successful strikers of recent years.

In six seasons in the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros, Osuna has 155 saves.

The powerful right-hander last played for the Astros in 2020 and was put on waiver at the end of the season. He has been playing in the Mexican league since 2021.

He went 2-0 in 12 games for Diablos Rojos del Mexico this season with six saves, a 1.35 ERA and 15 strikeouts.

It’s an odd signing considering Naoya Masuda has done so well with 14 saves already.

In 2018, Osuna was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assault.

He is said to have attacked his girlfriend, the mother of his 3-year-old son. Osuna was a fan favorite in Toronto prior to the arrest.

But he was placed on administrative leave by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and later received a 75-game suspension without pay for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.

In July 2018, the Blue Jays traded Osuna to the Astros, where he led the American League with 38 saves in 2019.

He has already appeared in a farm game for Lotte and gave up two runs in an inning for work.

Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a veteran journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here.

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