The playoff race is beginning to heat up in both the Pacific and Central Leagues, but for now all eyes will be on the prestigious Koshien High School Baseball Championship.
The season in the NPB has been very interesting so far. Each of the leagues boast compelling battles for first place, as well as for the three playoff berths. For the most part, the Central League has been led by the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons, with several teams fighting for the final playoff spot. Yokohama has looked strong throughout the year, but never count out the Hanshin Tigers, and even the Carp and Swallows both have reason for optimism as well. If I were to choose the third team at the start of August, I would pick the Tigers, if only because their pitching has been consistently good so far this year.
The Pacific League has been more dramatic. Nippon Ham was in last place during the early part of the year, then rocketed into first past everyone thanks to a team-wide improvement in all phases of the game. What looked like a one-man show thanks to the brilliance of Yu Darvish has been transformed into a team effort that promises to give the Sapporo club a great chance at repeating as champions. SoftBank has disappointed, especially thanks to the shoulder woes of Kazumi Saito and the deteriorating hitting of the once-mighty Nobuhiko Matsunaka. With their deep roster, they still have a chance of passing the Fighters to move into first. The Chiba Lotte Marines look to be a lock for the third playoff position on the strength of a surging offense and a deep rotation of good, not great starting pitching. The Lions, Buffaloes, and Eagles are virtually out of contention, but each team's fans have something to follow as the stretch run begins.
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