Play Offs

Japanese Baseball - Play Offs

Japanese Baseball Play Offs Guide

Jason Coskrey

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While professional baseball in Japan shares a wealth of similarities with it's MLB counterpart, the playoff system is not one of them.

In Japan the playoffs consist of three teams from both the Central and Pacific Leagues competing in their respective league's Climax Series.

Climax Series

The winners of the two Climax Series then advance on to compete in the Japan Series, a seven-game series to decide the NPB Champion.

Each Climax Series is made up of two series which determines the Climax Series champion. The regular season pennant winner receives a bye in the first stage, a three-game series between the second and third placed team in the standings. That series is held at the home stadium of the second-place club.

Yu Darvish.
Yu Darvish, a big star in Japan
Samurai Way of Baseball.

The winner of the first stage advances to meet the regular season champion in a six-game series which determines the Climax Series champion. In addition to having home field advantage, the first-place team also receives an automatic one-game advantage.

Following this the two winners meet in the seven-game Japan Series. Prior to 2004, the two regular season champions automatically advanced to the title round.

The Japan Series has been held from 1950 to the present with the Mainichi Orions the first team to win a Japan Series title. The Yomiuri Giants have won the Japan Series 20 times, more than any other team, and are 98-72-2 all-time in the series. The Seibu Lions are second with 13 titles and a 68-60-2 record.

The Pacific League was the first of the two leagues to use the Climax Series, instituting it in the 2004 season. One difference was that the second stage of the playoffs was then a five-game series.

That year the second-place Seibu Lions won the first stage over the third-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 2-1 then dispatched the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the second stage before defeating the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Series.

The second-place team rose to the occasion again in 2005, with the Chiba Lotte Marines, blowing past Seibu in two games in the first stage and beating the Hawks three games to two in the second stage. The Marines swept the Hanshin Tigers 4-0 in the Japan Series before going on to win the first ever Asia Series.

The regular season champion finally reached the Japan Series in 2006, after the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, starting with a one-game advantage, beat the Hawks in two games to sweep the series 3-0. The Hawks had beaten the Lions in the first stage.

The Fighters won the PL's third straight Japan Series by defeating the Chunichi Dragons 4-1.

The Central League introduced its own Climax Series in the 2007 season. It's thought that the popular belief that long layoff severely hurt the Tigers in 2005 led the CL to put together a postseason format.

Bidding to reach their second straight Japan Series, the Dragons made short work of the Hanshin Tigers in a two-game sweep in the first stage of the playoffs.

Chunichi then hit the road to face the CL Champions in the second stage at Tokyo Dome.

Seemingly overmatched, the Dragons pulled off a huge upset, winning three straight games to become the first CL team to reach the Japan Series without winning the CL pennant.

In the PL, the Marines outlasted the Hawks in three games at home, to advance to the second stage against the PL champion Fighters in Sapporo.

There the two teams played out an evenly matched series the went down to the fifth and deciding game, a match up of the year's top two pitchers, Yu Darvish of the Fighters and Yoshihisa Naruse from the Marines.

Darvish and the Fighters won the duel, setting up a rematch of the 2006 Japan Series against the Dragons.

Darvish and Nippon Ham won the first game, but the Dragons won the next four--throwing a perfect game in Game 5 of the Japan Series--to claim the Japan Series title. In all the Dragons went 9-1 during the postseason.

In 2008 both regular season champions advanced through the Climax Series.

In the PL the Fighters swept the Orix Buffaloes in the first round. They then traveled to Seibu and fell to the Lions in four games. The Dragons again defeated the Tigers in the first round in the CL, but fell to the Giants in the second stage.

The Japan Series between the two most successful teams in Japanese baseball history was a classic, with the Lions rallying to win late in the seventh and deciding game of the series.

Where the Japanese postseason is geared to give the top teams the best chance to advance, the MLB system in contrast is much fairer.

Major League Baseball's playoffs feature an even number of teams (four) from both the American and National Leagues, with each team assured of at least two home games per series. By contrast in Japan, only the higher seeded team plays at home in the earlier rounds.

Also there are no one-game advantages in the MLB series.

The championship round is nearly identical however, with the MLB's World Series and the NPB's Japan Series both employing the same format. Both are seven-game series that assures that each team will host at least two games.

The team with home field advantage (the league of the previous winner in Japan and determined by the All-Star Game winner in the MLB) hosts the first and last two games with the other squad at home for the three middle contests.

The 2009 Japan Series is scheduled to begin on Oct. 31 at the home of the Pacific League Climax Series Champion.

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