Monday, September 20, 2021
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Nippon Professional Baseball: Yomiuri Giants Remain Prevalent

With the 2020 season approaching its final chapter, we look at the Yomiuri Giants' domination, whether the Giants or any Nippon Professional Baseball team could compete against a Major League Baseball club, and examine the dismissal of the Tazawa Rule.

Yomiuri Giants Reign Supreme 

The Yomiuri Giants
The Yomiuri Giants – Credit: https://www.viator.com/tours/Tokyo/Baseball-Experience-with-Yomiuri-Giants/d334-27666P26

Like all sports leagues from across the globe, Nippon Professional Baseball has endured significant hurdles in 2020. While the season began three months after anticipated, the coronavirus task force originating from the league’s office was eager to get the season underway.

As games commenced, the most established franchise of Nippon Professional Baseball has continued to thrive again this year. Through 105 contests, the Yomiuri Giants are 63-36-6 arriving at a .629 winning percentage. If that weren’t enough, the Giants have fared even better at home, with a 36-15-2 record achieving a .698 winning percentage. During the Giants’ 105 games, they have scored 484 runs while only allowing 360 runs, both of which ranks in the top two in the NPB this season.

The Giants won the Central League last year and are primed to do the same this year, where they hold a 9.5 game lead with 15 games remaining. The Giants haven’t prevailed in the Japan Series since 2012; however, they appear destined to win the final game of the 2020 season.

The Giants are led by 24-year old infielder Kazuma Okamoto and veteran pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano. Kazuma Okamoto is battling for the Central League lead in home runs and RBIs behind his 26 home runs and league-leading 81 RBI. 

Pitching to a 13-1 record, the 31-year old Tomoyuki Sugano has recorded a microscopic 2.02 ERA with 113 strikeouts over 120.1 innings, which puts him in the running for the Triple Crown. Sugano was the 2014 Central League MVP and Triple Crown winner in 2018, where he pitched to a 2.14 ERA, 15 wins, and 200 strikeouts.

Nippon Professional Baseball vs. Major League Baseball

NPB vs MLB

The Yomiuri Giants could compete with anyone in a single game or series, though the dilemma arises with their success throughout a complete season. Though, many NPB pitchers, such as Tomoyuki Sugano, could dominate versus a major league lineup. Nippon Professional Baseball teams are viewed as the same skill level as a AAA team, which is just beneath the major league level. 

The most talented NPB players could compete in the majors and have successful careers, but beyond that, it is challenging to see a lower-tier NPB player having success in MLB. The most well-known players to jump from Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball include Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. While Hideki made a significant splash in the majors, Ichiro goes down as the most prominent player from NPB. When first eligible in 2025, Ichiro will become the first Japanese player in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It’s essential to note that the dominance of the Yomiuri Giants in the NPB is well deserved. While Major League Baseball features 30 teams, whereas the NPB this year features just 12 franchises, the Giants’ achievements should not be lessened because of the number of teams competing.

The Essence of Fans

An empty Tokyo Dome
An empty Tokyo Dome – Credit: https://apnews.com/article/6106aa976ca083ebc4a6d14eccb812c3/gallery/baae1cdf18b24c91bd5bf3b2ae872700

The appearance of fans at a ballpark changes the perception of Baseball. When the season began, Nippon Professional Baseball games were capped at 5,000 fans. As the 2020 NPB season proceeded, the number of fans has grown at ballparks.

The league currently has a 50% capacity at each ballpark, though talks have continued to allow more fans into ballparks for the remainder of the season. The league’s task force, accompanied by medical experts, continues to discuss how educating fans to maintain protocols is the best solution to keep the infection risk low. The conversations will proceed as we head into the home stretch of the season. It appears feasible that both the Climax and Japan Series will feature a higher percentage than 50% capacity for the season’s most crucial games.

As we look ahead to the season’s culmination, the Climax Series will feature the Pacific League’s top two teams. As for the Central League, because the league faced scheduling difficulties due to the coronavirus, the team with the highest winning percentage from the regular season will compete for the Japan series against the Pacific League’s Climax Series winner starting on November 21.

The Tazawa Rule: Forecast of Nippon Professional Baseball

Junichi Tazawa
Junichi Tazawa playing for the Miami Marlins – Credit: D. Benjamin Miller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Junichi Tazawa was a highly touted Japanese high school baseball player. After high school, Tazawa elected to play for Nippon Oil, a corporate league with no relations with the NPB. Tazawa dominated the league while leading Nippon Oil to a Championship. Shortly after, Tazawa announced he would skip the Nippon Professional Baseball Draft to play in the majors to bypass having to wait nine years to become a free agent. However, the NPB was against this and attempted to derail Tazawa’s aspirations.

After the fiasco, Nippon Professional Baseball issued the Tazawa Rule, which prevented Japanese players from signing with clubs overseas before entering the NPB Draft. Where is the decency in preventing a player from Japan to play overseas without serving a penalty if they elect to come back and play in Japan? Where is the integrity in making a player not only sit out from signing with a NPB club but also preventing to play anywhere overseas until they serve a penalty?

As of September 7, Nippon Professional Baseball ultimately dismissed the Tazawa Rule. Junichi Tazawa has since returned to Japan back in 2018 but was powerless with his chances to play in the NPB. Tazawa currently plays in the Route Inn BCL, formerly known as the Baseball Challenge League for the Saitama Musashi Heat Bears. Since the rule has been removed, Tazawa has been outspoken about playing in NPB if a team acquires him.

The Tazawa Rule was strictly a ploy by Nippon Professional Baseball to selfishly attempt to further Japanese Baseball. However, the rule was conflicting and worked against the wishes of its players. It’s been 12 years since the league instated the Tazawa Rule, and it appears as if Nippon Professional Baseball took the hint and will focus on the advancement of the game instead of selfishly providing resources for the league.

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