Japanese Baseball - Central League
Central League Guide
All the teams of the Central League
Founded Dec. 26, 1934
Japanese baseball's oldest and most successful franchise, the Kyojin (Giants) are currently celebrating their 75th anniversary as Japan's first professional team. Historically the Giants are Japanese baseball royalty, owning 41 league titles and 20 Japan Series titles. Often referred to as "Japan's team" or the Japanese version of the New York Yankees, the Giants won nine consecutive Japan Series titles from 1965 to 1973, with the game's two most popular players of all-time, Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh each in his prime.
The nation's wealthiest team, the Giants can afford to bring in the best free agents, most recently noted when they brought in the trio of Alex Ramirez and pitchers Seth Greisinger and Marc Kroon prior to the 2008 season. Ramirez would go on to have an MVP season while Greisinger led the Central League in wins and Kroon set a new franchise record for saves.
As expected the Kyojin have also had a who's who list of managers including Nagashima, Oh and current skipper Hara, who led Japan to a win in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Hara's 2009 Giants have won the last two Central League pennants and, at the midway point of the this season, look primed for a third straight triumph.
As always, the Giants have stars at nearly every position starting with catcher Shinnosuke Abe and young superstar shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.The talent doesn't stop there on a roster that also includes reigning CL MVP Ramirez and 2007 winner Michihiro Ogasawara, who was also the 2006 Pacific League MVP.
Founded: Dec. 10, 1935
If the Giant are Japan's New York Yankees, the Tigers are the Boston Red Sox.
Founded one year after their Tokyo counterparts, the Tigers have long been the Giants' hated rivals. Based in Osaka the Tigers' history doesn't compare with the Giants, as the club has won just five league titles and one Japan Series.
Despite that, Hanshin's supporters are second to none in Japan and maybe the world. They occupy nearly half of most visiting stadiums the team travels to and are easily the most loud ad boisterous bunch in Japan.
The Tigers finally won their only Japan Series title in 1985. The hysteria in Osaka following the win led to what has become known as the "Curse of the Colonel." According to legend a group of fans tossed a statue of Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot Colonel Sanders, and threw into the polluted Dotonbori Canal--due to its supposed resemblance to first baseman Randy Bass, the 1985 CL MVP.
The team went on a downward spiral after that, not winning another pennant until the 2005, a period many attributed to the 'curse.' Hanshin lost the Japan Series to the Chiba Lotte Marines that season.
The statue was recovered on March 10, 2009.
Hanshin plays the majority of its home games at Koshien Stadium (officially Hanshin Koshien Stadium), which opened in 1924. With its ivy-covered walls, Koshien is arguably one of the nation's most famous baseball venues.
The stadium also hosts the annual spring and summer high school tournaments, celebrated events in Japan which forces the Tigers to take long road trips. The summer version forces the team out for three-weeks during the middle of the season, which has often led to a decline in the club's fortunes leading the period to be dubbed the Shi no roodo (literally road of death or road trip of death).
The Tigers had a historic collapse to end the 2008 seasons and things aren't looking much better in 2009.
Star attraction Tomoaki Kanemoto led an early-season surge but the Tigers have since faded into the lower reaches of the Central League standings.
Kanemoto, the oldest position player in the NPB, is the Tigers' best player and leads the charge in the three-hole in the lineup.
Former Toronto Blue Jays slugger Kevin Mench was added in the offseason but never lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him as the Hanshin offense floundered. He has since been replaced by former Seibu Lion Craig Brazzell.
The Tigers have had trouble both scoring runs and preventing them, as the 2009 campaign is shapes up to be a disappointing one.
Founded: Jan. 15, 1936
The Dragons have been among the Central League's best throughout much of their history and have captured four CL titles in their history.
Founded in 1936, the franchise had five different names before settling on 'Dragons' in 1954. It was during that same year that the team won it's first Japan Series title. They went on to win six more pennants but fell in the Japan Series each time.
Ironically after losing out to the Yomiuri Giants for the 2007 pennant, the Dragons again reached the Japan Series, benefitting from the CL's new Climax Series playoff system.
There they ended a five-decade drought, the longest in the NPB, with a victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham FIghters in the Japan Series, four games to one.
The Nagoya-based Dragons capped the title run with a combined perfect game, with starter Daisuke Yamai and closer Hitoki Iwase teaming up to shutdown the Fighters in the deciding fifth game.
Managed by Hiromitsu Ochiai, the Dragons are hoping for similar results this season.
Starting pitching is the Dragons' calling card and their staff is littered with solid hurlers such as Chen Wei Yin. Yudai Kawaii and Kazuki Yoshimi among others.
Shortstop Hirokazu Ibata and second baseman Masahiro Araki may be the world's top double play combination and at the plate new addition Tony Blanco has filled the void left by slugger Tyrone Woods' departure.
Hiroshima Toyo Carp
Founded: Nov. 28, 1949
Founded in 1949, things were bleak early on for the Hiroshima Carp, who narrowly avoided being disbanded in 1952 after a rule targeting teams who finished with a winning percentage worse than .300 was enacted. The Carp's winning percentage was .316 that season.
Things changed in the '70s, when the Carp became one of the dominant teams in Japanese baseball behind stars Koji Yamamoto and Sachio Kinugasa.
"Mr. Aka Heru" (Mr. Red Helmet), Yamamoto was centerpiece of many of those pennant-winning squads, winning the MVP honors in 1975 and 1980 and making the All-Star team from 1972-1986. He finished his career with 536 home runs and 1475 RBIs. Yamamoto led the Carp to five Japan Series appearances, winning the title three times.
Kinugasa famously played in 2,215 consecutive games, earning the nickname Tetsujin, breaking former New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig's record. It was later broken by Cal Ripken, who played in 2,632 straight contests.
WIth those two leading the way, the Carp won six CL pennants and three Japan Series titles from 1975 to 1991.
After reigning as one of Japan's top teams in the '70s, the Carp have fallen back on hard times since.
The Carp finished fourth in the Central League last year and those struggles have carried over into this season.
Despite an imposing presence in cleanup hitter Kenta Kurihara, the Carp have struggled at the plate and in need of some more help on offense. Expected to contend in the pennant race, Hiroshima's offensive woes have held the team back this season.
Managed by Marty Brown, the lack of a true No. 3 hitter and an inconsistent pitching staff seem to signal more tough times for the Carp faithful this year.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Founded: Jan. 25, 1950
The Swallows were arguably the Central League's team of the '90s, winning the league title in 1992, '93, '95, and '97. Yakult also won three Japan Series titles during the decade in '93, '95 and '97.
Even when they were winning with regularity the Swallows' exploits were often overshadowed by whatever the latest news was out of Tokyo Dome, home of the ever popular Giants.
The team plays in the second oldest ballpark in Japan, Meiji Jingu Stadium. The stadium was built in 1926 and has hosted the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Playing in the shadow or the crosstown Yomiuri Giants, the Swallows find themselves in the thick of the pennant race in 2009.
Led by WBC star Norichika Aoki, the Swallows feature a lineup capable of scoring runs in bunches yet versatile enough to make things happen on the basepaths. The power comes from sluggers Jaime D'Antona and Aaron Guiel, who lead the team in home runs.
Aoki is a speedster and Hiroyasu Tanaka brings an all-around presence to the plate.
The Swallows feature a young talented pitching staff which includes Shoei Tateyama, Ryo Kawashima and the up and coming Yoshinori Sato.
Yokohama DeNa BayStars
Founded: Nov. 22, 1949
The Yokohama BayStars are Japan's perennial losers, having struggled through much of their existence.
The team won its first CL pennant and Japan Series title in 1960 and had to wait 38 years to repeat the feat in 1998.
Since then the BayStars have not been in serious contention for a title despite often seemingly having the talent to compete.
The team was founded in 1950 as the Taiyo Whales before merging with the Shochiku Robins in 1952, becoming the Taiyo Shochiku Robins and later the Yo-Sho Robins.
The team relocated from Osaka to Kawasaki in Kanagawa prefecture in 1955, once again assuming the Taiyo Whales moniker.
The franchise moved to its current home at Yokohama Stadium in 1978 and were known as the Yokohama Taiyo Whales before being renamed the Yokohama BayStars in 1993.
Things by the bay hit an all-time low in an horrible 2008 season and that could be rivaled this season.
Despite featuring sluggers Shuichi Murata and Yuki Yoshimura as well as Seiichi Uchikawa and pitcher Daisuke Miura, the BayStars have struggled to keep up with the rest of the league.
Many of the team's issues begin with the pitching staff, which had the league's highest ERA in 2008. Things aren't much better this season, even with the addition of right Ryan Glynn, as the team has struggled to keep opposing team's off the scoreboard.
The team became the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in 2011.
Central League Ballparks
Stadium: Koshien Stadium
Stadium: Tokyo Dome
Stadium: Nagoya Dome
Stadium: Yokohama Stadium
Stadium: Jingu Stadium
Stadium: Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium