The first stage of the Climax series concluded with two teams moving on and two of them going home.
Both teams who won the pennant for their respective leagues are now given a one game advantage and play all their games in their home stadium. As a result, predicting something like "Softbank Hawks in 5" would mean the Hawks would win four straight games.
Here are our thoughts and predictions on both the Central and Pacific League:
Pacific League: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks vs Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
The Fighters won the pennant for the first time since 2012 and earned it over the Hawks to get the one game advantage. They would also get the right to play all the games on the North side of Japan in Sapporo Dome.
Despite not playing Shohei Otani as a pitcher for majority of the second half, the Fighters were able to go with next man up in their rotation and pick up the slack. One of the biggest heroes was Hirotoshi Masui, who initially lost his closer job in the middle of the year, but became a solid piece in the rotation.
Otani continued to hit and carry the team with his bat, but the supporting cast of Kohei Arihara and a solid bullpen made sure they would take the pennant and not second place. The question becomes more about Chris Martin's health as he earned the closer position, but got injured with less than a month to go.
Hokkaido's hitting is good and their speed is an ultimate strength, but they also sacrifice bunt more than they should given their personnel. There is also unorthodox style managing with different pitchers switching between starting and being relievers.
For the Hawks, they took out the Chiba Lotte Marines in a two game sweep. It took some late hits by Kenta Imamiya in the 8th inning to secure the deal in both games. Their pitching has been great with plenty of options.
Even with Yuki Yanagita returning, they didn't need him with their lineup being reliable from top to bottom in the postseason. Players like Yuichi Honda and Kenji Akashi can just step up if needed. The best part? Their lock down bullpen duo of Roberto Suarez and Dennis Sarfate, or as we call it, "Suarfate" to take the 8th and 9th innings. Even before the 8th, Kimiyasu Kudo has plenty of options for one out or even one inning.
Christian: The Fighters have a one game advantage, but the Hawks passed the test of winning a two out of three series after having a demoralizing second half to let an 11.5 game lead slip. Softbank has shown they do better on the road and I believe they will benefit from Sapporo Dome's pitcher dimensions as much as the Fighters compared to the Yafuoku! Dome, where it's easier to hit a home run.
There is one thing on the Fighters I don't completely trust despite Otani being there and that is their rotation and bullpen depth. I like what Arihara has done and Martin does well in a closing role, but who can step up for them? I'm not sure I trust the Fighters even with that one game advantage. The Hawks pitching and depth is just too hard to pick against after I already tried in the first round.
Hawks in 7
Wes: Even with the advantage, I don't see a scenario where the Fighters get it done and advance to the Japan Series. The only one I can create is one where the Hawks go cold on offense and the Fighters go for it all and stretch out Otani as much as possible. They might have to do that to beat the Hawks, as Softbank will have the advantage in every game they play, with the exception of the games that Otani pitches in.
And now that Yanagita is back, the Hawks have their straw that stirs the drink back in the lineup, though we'll see how fast he can regain his timing. There's just too many advantages that the Hawks have over the Fighters and that's why I'm picking them as well.
Hawks in 6
Central League: Hiroshima Carp vs Yokohama DeNA Baystars
The Carp won the pennant with everything going right for them. Last year, the Carp hitting was inconsistent after being rock solid in 2014. After losing Kenta Maeda, the pitching was supposed to take a hit. However, it was their hitting and bullpen which cost them games in 2015.
Their bats turned it up with Ryosuke Kikuchi and Yoshihiro Maru having rebound seasons. It was also about the breakthrough season for Seiya Suzuki, who carried them witha mix of power and clutch hits as Brad Eldred was out with an injury. But like their bats being a problem, the bullpen also improved with Jay Jackson being one of the best foreign import pickups of the season.
Yusuke Nomura brought great production with the loss of Maeda and Kris Johnson had a year worthy of a potential Sawamura award. Throw in a solid Hiroki Kuroda and the rotation would be decent with plenty of hitting to go everywhere. People knew this team was talented, it was just a matter of things coming together, which it did.
The Baystars had a new skipper in Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez taking the reigns. Things were rocky at first with a 9-18-1 March/April to begin the year, but the boys from Yokohama would bounce back doing well in odd-numbered months and having cold even-numbered months.
Rami-chan was arguably more prepared to look at numbers and stats in his first year as manager. He put in a rookie to start at catcher in Yasutaka Tobashira as he worked with the rotation. For a team that usually doesn't pitch, it became their strength through the first half with Kenta Ishida and rookie Shota Imanaga carrying a load. Yasutomo Kubo put in respectable starts along with Shoichi Ino and Shun Yamaguchi when healthy.
It was their hitting that was an Achilles heel, where the struggles to string hits together were a problem. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo was the home run king of NPB and Jose Lopez had a rough start to the year being a one dimensional home run hitter. However, the team weathered a sophomore slump from closer Yasuaki Yamasaki with a combination of respectable pitching (for a hitter's ballpark) and a mix of inflated pop numbers to secure third place. At one point, they were only leading the Hanshin Tigers by 1/2 game with more than a month to go.
In the first round of the Climax Series, the Baystars advanced in extra innings for what would be a thriller elimination game. A few clutch hits and hanging tough gave them just enough grit to get through with an 11th inning hit by Hiroki Minei.
Christian: The Baystars did a great job getting through to the next round, but I feel they run into a buzzsaw here with the talent gap being too huge. There's a nice foundation in Yokohama, but I like the talent and lineup of the Carp. One of the coolest facts is one significant Japan Series drought will end.
Carp in 5
Wes: You never know what can happen, but I don't see the Baystars continuing their magical run. Sure, they were able to walk by a Giants team without Sugano, but now they'll be facing a deadly lineup with a good rotation and a backend of the bullpen that rivals the Hawks' duo of Suarfate. Granted, beyond Kris Johnson, the Carp rotation won't blow your socks off but the Carp defense has positive UZRs at every position except third base and LF, and because of this, Nomura and Kuroda will get away with not blowing guys away.
The only pitcher who stacks up well against the Carp is young, Shota Imanaga, so if the Baystars have any chance, it will likely go through him. If you're a Baystars fan, I'd hope for some cold weather in Hiroshima which will lend itself to pitchers duels and the possibility of one blast winning the game.
Carp in 4
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