NPB Baseball News

September 4, 2020

Sugano Tomoyuki (l) has been on fire for the Giants. Shogo Akiyama (r) hits for the Cincinnati Reds.

Sugano Tomoyuki (l) has been on fire for the Giants. Shogo Akiyama (r) hits for the Cincinnati Reds.

Yomiuri Still Giants in the Central

Last year's Central League champions, Yomiuri, are again at the top of the heap as this truncated season rounds into the halfway mark. The NPB schedule has been pared down to 120 games after starting three months late due to the global pandemic. And let's not forget that this year the Central League will not host a playoff round and will instead choose to send the top team directly into the Japan Series where they will face the winner of the Pacific League.

Therefore, there is only one spot available for the six contending teams, just as it was before the format change in 2007. Despite holding a 5½ game lead over the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, the Giants have much work ahead of them with no time to rest. Yomiuri will begin September by playing 13 games over the next 13 days. They will get just one day off before playing nine games over the following nine days. It is a brutal stretch and one that could see the team falter if fatigue or injuries begin to manifest.

Giants manager, Tatsunori Hara, was asked about the grueling stretch, I think it'll be fine if our players fulfill their roles."

"Since we've got some really tough games coming up, I want us to work together as a team, take it one game at a time and give everything we have in the game that's in front of us," outfielder Yoshihiro Maru said.

Yomiuri's ace, Tomoyuki Sugano, has been nothing short of stellar this season and could very well add an MVP Trophy to his mantle if he keeps dealing as nasty as he has in the first half of the season. The two-time winner of the Sawamura Award for Japan's most outstanding pitcher in the NPB is currently 9-0 with a 1.61 ERA over his 10 starts this season. Those who have been backing Sugano in their baseball picks have been cleaning up at the betting windows this year and there is more to come in the second half of the season!

NPB Going Global?

Aside from Major League Baseball in the United States, Nippon Professional Baseball is about as good as it gets, yet, many outside of Japan don't know much about it. Of course, some of the Japanese imports have certainly made an international splash like Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, and Shohei Ohtani. However, unless an NPB player finds his way onto an MLB roster, his exposure is limited.

But that might be changing if the Pacific League has something to say about it. While its counterpart in the NPB, the Central League, is much more staid and traditional, the Pacific League is far more amenable to new ideas and novel ways of reaching new audiences. As an opening salvo in bringing Japanese baseball to the American market, the Pacific League has made a pact with U.S. sports channel, For The Fans, aka FTF.

"We are very happy to have a deal with FTF in the U.S. market because our company's mission is to grow a new fan base for Japanese pro baseball," Tomoki Negishi, CEO of Pacific League Marketing, told The Japan Times. "So, our fan base market is not only in Japan but also the global market."

After Negishi and his cohorts were unable to strike a deal with ESPN to televise their games, they pivoted quickly and were shaking hands with For The Fans executives within a month of the onset of the negotiations.

"They (American viewers) might find prospective players for Major League Baseball," Negishi said. "Shogo Akiyama joined MLB (this year) and some prospective players exist in the Pacific League. So, they might enjoy finding the prospects."

The deal only runs through this year but it's the league's first foray into the living rooms of American baseball fans. Merchandising and digital subscriptions are also part of the marketing plan to broaden the appeal of the Pacific League and the NPB in general.

Negishi continued, "We want our content to reach English-speakers, so we want to convert from Japanese to English on everything, not only broadcasts but also social media and things like that. So we have a plan to have media exposure in English. In the near future, we're going to have it."

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