Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Giants clinch, Frontale wins the first leg, NRL playoffs

Giants win their 3rd consecutive title behind Obispo

A few weeks ago, I watched Wifrin Obispo pitch in a minor league game for the Giants against Yakult. While I was in Hawaii, he was recalled to the big club and has been pitching well. Today, he started against Chunichi and pitched 7 good innings, giving up only 5 hits and a walk. Unfortunately, one of the hits was a 3-run homer from veteran catcher Motonobu Tanishige, but this was the only blemish. The offense managed to put together 5 runs and the bullpen held the lead, giving Obispo 5 wins against only 1 loss, with a tidy 2.66 ERA.

Sadly, this victory gave the Giants their third straight Central League title. Their celebration was an orgy of beer spraying as the players tried to soak each other with bottles of Asahi. Such a waste! I am not a fan of the Giants, who dominate Japanese baseball in much the same way the Yankees and Red Sox do in MLB, so 3 titles in a row is particularly bothersome. And with the Yankees clinching their playoff berth on the same day (in Japan at least), it's doubly depressing. But I'm glad to see Obispo succeed, and I know that I lucked out watching this kid pitch from 100 feet away for free just three weeks before he started a critical game.

I should note that Chunichi is solidly in second place in the CL and will host Hanshin, Yakult, or Hiroshima in the first round of the Climax series. These 3 teams are all within 1.5 games of each other but are about 8 games below .500. So it's a rather ugly race and I'd expect Chunichi to dispose of whichever team takes 3rd place and challenge the Giants for the CL title.

In the Pacific League, the Nippon Ham Fighters are choking away their lead and now have only a 3.5 game cushion on the Softbank Hawks . The Rakuten Golden Eagles stand 3rd with a 2-game lead on 4th-place Seibu. It's certainly a much more interesting race than anything happening in MLB. But the bad news is that the only Tokyo-area team to host games in the playoffs will be the Giants and I don't know if I can stomach a game there.

Frontale knocks off Nagoya

Today was the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-finals. Kawasaki Frontale hosted Nagoya Grampus in an afternoon tilt. A first-half goal from Aussie national Joshua Kennedy gave Grampus a 1-0 lead, but Frontale replied with two in the second half from Kengo Nakamura and Juninho to win 2-1. They travel to Nagoya next week for the second leg, and if Frontale can hold on, they'd advance to the semi-finals against either an Uzebekistan or Saudi Arabian team. They'd play the first leg on the road in one of those two countries - now there's a road trip worth thinking about!

NRL semi-finals this weekend

Back in May I saw Brisbane defeat the Gold Coast in National Rugby League action in Australia. Well, it's a long season there, and the playoffs are finally underway. In the first round, the Broncos, who finished 6th, visited the 3rd place Titans in a rematch of the game I saw, and won 40-32. Due to the odd playoff system, both teams advanced to round 2, where Gold Coast lost to 8th-place Parramatta Eels, while Brisbane beat the 1st place Dragons (who were upset by the Eels the week before).

This weekend sees Brisbane travel to Melbourne while the surprising Eels take on the Canterbury Bulldogs. The two winners meet in the Grand Final on October 4th. I'll be cheering for Brisbane, but they are heavy underdogs. I'll let you all know what happened next week.



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