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03/09/2006 Archived Entry: "Japanese Baseball: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks Team Preview 2006"

Japanese Baseball: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks Team Preview 2006
Glenn Davies, Tokyo.

Under Sadaharu Oh the Hawks have finished a record 1st or 2nd in each of the last seven seasons, the Atlanta Braves of Japan?, and won two championships. The National team skipper always finds a way to get production and pitching but the loss of Johjima (Mlb Mariners) and Batista (Mlb Twins) will make it a real test to extend the record to eight. The lineup provides less power than in recent years but if the pitching performs as it has over the past seasons and looking at the number of quality starters and closers they have, the Hawks will finish first in 2006.

Probable Lineup:

Pos. Name Avg. HR RBI SB
1. CF Naoyuki Omura .270 8 48 31
2. SS Munenori Kawasaki .271 4 36 21
3. DH Julio Zuleta .319 43 99 0
4. 1B Nobuhiko Matsunaka .315 46 121 2
5. LF Jolbert Cabrera .297 8 58 3
6. RF Hiroshi Shibahara .266 1 15 0
7. 2B Yusuke Torigoe .237 0 17 2
8. 3B Mitsuru Honma .262 2 21 0
9. C Naoki Matoba .186 2 8 0

A good lineup 1-5...after that it gets ugly. Omura and Kawasaki provide the speed and Zuleta and Matsunaka the power and all four players have proven themselves season after season for the Hawks. Omura and Matsunaka has averaged 120RBIs and 40HRs each season and won the triple crown in 2004. Zuleta just keeps getting better and set career highs for average and homeruns last season. Smooth fielding Cabrera rounds out the key five and should provide more power in '06. Torigoe and Honma look unlikely to develop much further and catcher Matoba has a career average of some improvement in 2005? Minor league catching prospect Kenta Nakanishi looks the most likely to back up Matoba and ay develop into a good hitter over the next few years, Nakanishi hit .243 2HR and 10RBIs in 32 minor league games last season

Probable Rotation:

Name Games W L Sv ERA
SP Kazumi Saito 22 16 1 0 2.92
SP Toshiya Sugiuchi 26 18 4 0 2.11
SP Junji Hoshino 19 8 5 0 4.30
SP Tsuyoshi Wada 25 12 8 0 3.27
SP Hector Carrasco (Royals) 21 6 8 0 4.79
SU Nagisa Arakaki 22 10 6 4.61 4.75
CP Koji Mise 54 2 2 18 4.73
CP Takahiro Mahara 53 9 9 22 4.36

A rotation with no real weak link and starting to spare in 2006. In fact, one of the Hawks long projected star starters doesn't even make this list- Hayato Teraharu. Teraharu has the stuff to compete for a starting spot if healthy in 2006. The team ERA was 3.46 in '05 and strong relief was also a big part of that, Softbank has two first line closers in Mise and Mahara giving manager Oh a righty and lefty to close and present opposition with match up difficulties. Only one player has won 20 games over the past 24 years in Pacific League history, that was the Hawks very own Kazumi Saito in 2003. Saito and Sugiuchi both look capable of doing that in 2006.

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