Baseball was introduced to Japan by an American schoolteacher called Horace Wilson in 1872 whilst he was working there and by the end of the nineteenth century it had become one of Japan’s most popular sports. In 1937 the first professional baseball league was created in Japan consisting of eight teams and this ran until 1944 but was suspended due to the war. In 1950 the league added more teams and split into two divisions, the Central and Pacific leagues. As the leagues emerged and the level of playing rose the American Major Baseball League started recruiting Japanese players and this continues today although the leagues organizers are afraid that they will lose many fans if Japan continues to lose its star players to the MLB. The greatest Japanese baseball players include Takashi Saiot, Hideki Matsui, Hideo Nomo and the legend that is Ichiro Suzuki who holds many Major League Baseball records. The league is now known as the Nippon Professional League (NPB) and the most successful team is the Yomiuri Giants who have won the championship on twenty-two occasions, although the most recent championship was won by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Both the Central and Pacific leagues are being led by the most successful team in the Nippon Professional League, the Yomiuri Giants and the defending champions the Fukuoka Hawks. The Giants are running away with the Central division as they have done on many occasions, but the Pacific league is a lot more hotly contested as the Hawks are being closely trailed by the Chiba Lotte Marines. Although the Giants are running away with the Central division crown the race for the play offs spots is being closely fought out between the Hasin Tigers, Yokohama Bay Stars and the Chunichi Dragons. As previously mentioned, the race for the Pacific division champion is tight and could be won by a host of teams and five of the six teams are still in with a shout of making the play offs. Unfortunately for the Hiroshima Carp’s and the Yakult Swallows of the Central league and the Orix Buffaloes of the Pacific division it appears their seasons are all but over and they are merely playing for pride.
The most in form side in the league at present is the Chunichi Dragons who have won their last five league games in a row. Other teams in form are the Yomiuri Dragons, the Rakuten Gold Eagles and the although in last place the Orix Buffaloes who have all won four of their last five matches. Worryingly for the top of the Pacific division side the Fukuoka Hawks are in a bit of a slump and have only won one of their last five matches. As the season begins to draw towards the end fans of the Hawks will be hoping that they can turn their fortunes around quickly. Although in saying that their closest title challengers the Chibba Lotte Marines are in poor form themselves and have also only won one of their last five matches. Other teams out of form are the Hiroshima Carp and the Yakult Swallows who each have a similar record over the past five games to the Hawks and the Marines. Looking back at the last round of games we can see that the third placed teams in both the Central and Pacific leagues defeated the second placed teams to pile the pressure on them both. Yokohama swept aside the Tigers 4-0 and the Gold Eagles defeated the Marines 5-3. The upset of the round came as bottom of the league Orix thumped top of the table Fukuoka 10-5. The Dragons continued their impressive run with a convincing 11-5 win over the Swallows. The Giants comfortably beat the Carp 7-3 to edge closer towards another Central division title and lastly in what was the weeks closest match the Lions beat the Ham Fighters 6-5. If we look at Saturdays fixtures the tie of the round must be between Chiba and Fukuoka as a win for Chiba could see them take the top spot in the Pacific league. Neither side is coming into the game in great form, but the Marines will take heart in the fact that they have beaten the Hawks on the last three occasions that the sides have met. The Bay Stars will be hoping to keep the pressure on the second placed Tigers as they travel to face the Carp, a side they have not lost against in the last four encounters. Two of the most in form sides face off against each other when bottom placed Buffaloes take on the Ham Fighters who need to keep winning if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Ham Fighters have won four of the last five fixtures between the two sides so they should be confident of another victory. In what could be the closest fought tie of the round the Lions host the Gold Eagles. If the Lions fail to win this one, they could see their playoff hopes begin to diminish. However, a win would catapult them right back into contention as it is that close right now. The last match of the round sees the top placed Giants take on the most in form side of any division the Dragons. Although the Dragons have a poor head to head record against the Giants, they did manage to salvage a draw the last time that the two sides met.
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