The Giants have been in remarkable decline this season.
The first half of the professional baseball season ended on July 24. The Giants battled with Yakult for the top spot until May, but gradually fell back from June onward. They are now 3.5 games behind sixth-place Chunichi, which is not a safe position. They have reached 50 losses, the fastest in the league, and are in danger of falling to the bottom (all results as of July 25).
The main cause of the slump is the pitching staff, which has been in a state of collapse since the July 15 game against Hiroshima, when the team hit a grand slam in four consecutive games for the first time in professional baseball history. The team’s defensive rating is 4.05, the worst among the 12 teams, and the relievers, in particular, are in tatters at 4.25, with many cases of late-inning comebacks. Tomoyuki Sugano, the absolute ace of the starting lineup, has been declining noticeably, and a generational change is being called for.
Foreign pitchers are also not in very good shape. Newcomer Andriese has yet to score a win, giving up six runs on seven hits against Hiroshima on July 16, and Kroll gave up three runs to Munetaka Murakami on July 20 in a game against Yakult. On July 20 against Yakult, Kroll was knocked out by Munetaka Murakami, who was missing his mainstay due to a new type of coronavirus infection. It can be said that the team has no way to play.
Even in the field, a number of key players, including mainstays Kazuma Okamoto and Yoshihiro Maru, have left the team due to the new strain of coronavirus. The Giants do not have a silver lining. If they finish in last place, it will be the first humiliation in 47 years since Shigeo Nagashima’s regime in 1975.
Manager Tatsunori Hara, 63, bears a great deal of responsibility. As the manager with full authority, he has been entrusted with everything from team organization to on-the-field direction and the appointment of players. This season, Hara’s leadership is questionable. He has been making early substitutions of starters and relying on weak relievers.
“Symbolic of this is the July 17 game against Hiroshima, in which the lead was 4-0 when starter Yuki Takahashi gave up a run and was replaced in the middle of the fourth inning. Takuya Hoehara, who had pitched in a losing effort the previous day, was brought in and gave up a grand slam homer. The pitching was not going well,” said a reporter for a sports newspaper.
I’m sure he felt relieved.
At the end of last year, Hara signed a three-year contract with the Giants. Although he still has two years left on his contract after this season, he will not be safe if the Giants fall to the bottom of the standings. However, Hara remains optimistic, telling reporters at the Yomiuri Shimbun’s Tokyo headquarters in Chiyoda Ward on July 20, after reporting on the first half of the season to owner Juichi Yamaguchi.
“The owner is very kind to me. I think we had a good discussion about the good points and the shortcomings, as well as other things. I’m sure the owner was relieved to hear about the team’s current situation. I would be grateful if he has even higher expectations for us.”
I wonder if the owner was really “relieved” and “hopeful” when he heard about the team’s current situation, in which the pitching staff has collapsed and the team is in danger of falling to the bottom of the standings. Behind Hara’s bullishness lies the team’s special circumstances.
When the Giants slumped to fifth place in 2005 under Tsuneo Horiuchi, they welcomed Hara with open arms. With this season, he has been manager for 16 years, the longest in the team’s history, and it is difficult for the team to hold him accountable.
Another factor is that there is no one to replace Hara. Although the names of coaches Shinnosuke Abe and Daisuke Motoki have been mentioned, most view them as inexperienced as leaders. The background is the example of Yoshinobu Takahashi, who took over as manager immediately after retiring from active duty. Takahashi became manager while still intending to remain active, and the team failed to win three consecutive championships. Since then, the Giants have been backward in appointing people with little coaching experience as managers. The only way out is for Hara to stay on until his contract expires and train the next generation of managers.
It seems unlikely that the Giants will be able to find a way out of their current stagnation.
Photo: Kyodo News： Kyodo News