(photo courtesy of Kyodo News)
With Osaka Touin shockingly not in the picture to defend their Haru-Natsu titles, the field opens up immensely to the announced field. There is no overshadowing team that is oppressing the rest of the schools (at least for now). Who then is better equipped to take advantage of this opportunity?
Instead of going team by team, where there would probably be a lot of saying the exact same thing – weak pitching, black holes at the bottom of the lineup, etc. I’m going to talk about teams in what are effectively cliques.
And yes, I’m using anime references. And some may not be familiar to you, so I’m providing the series.
Shuchiin Gakuin Seitokai (Kaguya-sama wa kokurasetai)
- Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei
- Ryuukokudai Heian
- Chiben Wakayama
These schools here get most of the attention, given that they’ve been here before numerous times before. Some have won the title, others still seeking that final win to cement their school’s name in the history books (well, outside of losing 3 straight calendar finals – sorry Kousei, but it’s kinda true).
Surely at this point the whispers come about that one of these schools should become the front runner to win the title.
The favorite by far has to be Seiryou. Ace Okugawa Yasunobu returns, and he’s still putting up more than a K/IP. However the 2 questions that still remain for them are (1) will they let him go and pitch longer stints and (2) can the offense really hold up against tougher competition? Last year he was relieved early in their losses and the bullpen couldn’t keep it together. On the offensive side, low output against both Keishin and Sapporo Ootani are definitely a worry.
Yokohama and Kouryou both suffer from questions about their pitching. Both also struck out a batter an inning, but both seem to have inherent flaws. Kouryou’s ace struck out a lot of batters, but in the case against Seiryou, also gave up a bunch of runs. His velocity is not exceptional, so there has to be something in his pitching that good teams can key up on, even though he still strikes out his fair share. For Yokohama’s Oyokawa Masaki, his problem is control. He throws hard, but if players are willing to wait it out, they’ll find something to hit.
Ryuukokudai Heian stays true to their MO of low-scoring games and razor thin margins which will keep them in games, but that’s about it.
At the bottom are Kousei and Chiben Wakayama. Kousei’s pitching is better than Chiben Wakayama, but that’s not saying much really. They may however be able to avoid being one-and-done, which is more than what I can say for the big red “C”.
Fumidzuki Gakuen 2-F (Baka to test to shoukanjyuu)
- Moriokadai Fuzoku
In as much as these schools want to beat those in the upper echelons of kokoyakyu, these schools have not yet been able to join those ranks.
The closest has been Moriokadai Fuzoku who in recent years have turned from one-and-done to the 3rd round, to now the Best 8 two years ago. But by now that batch of students have probably left and a new set has to try and move the school one more step further. Yet it’s hard to find a path for any of these schools to move forward, much less this squad. If Kousei isn’t great shakes, then Moriokadai Fuzoku losing to them can’t portend great things. Touhou may have won the Toukai region, but they too lost to Kousei – this time at Meiji Jingu.
Finally there’s Riseisha, the only school to really be considered a persistent thorn in Osaka Touin’s side. They’re good enough to beat Osaka Touin, but not consistent enough it seems to make an extended run to win Koushien. Their shutout loss to Ryuukokudai Heian is a good example of that fact.
Tokisadame Koukou (Nichijyou)
- Sapporo Dai-ichi
- Yamanashi Gakuin
- Akashi Shougyou
- Shiritsu Wakayama
- Fukuchiyama Seibi
- Shiritsu Kure
- Takamatsu Shougyou
- Matsuyama Seiryou
These schools are like the background schools who have made it to Koushien recently, but for the most part have not really done anything to date. These schools are generally average and have no strength that they can lean on to make an extended run.
It also means these schools have a lot to prove if they are to be seriously considered as title contenders. Many of the schools do not have the resume or the strength of opposition they lost to to justify such consideration. Sapporo Dai-ichi and Fukuchiyama Seibi immediately drop off the list as the former lost their need-to-have game in the Hokkaido final, and Fukuchiyama Seibi was shutout by Riseisha.
Shiritsu Wakayama, Shiritsu Kure, and Yamanashi Gakuin are next off that list, both with narrow losses but extenuating circumstances knocking them down a couple of pegs as well. For Shiritsu Wakayama they scored more than the average run total versus a generally stingy Ryuukokudai Heian, but also lost to Chiben Wakayama in the prefectural final. Shiritsu Kure barely lost to Kouryou and Yonago Higashi (the two other representatives) which was a good thing, but then seeing Kouryou easily being routed by Seiryou resets the overall view. Finally Yamanashi Gakuin lost in their prefecutral final, lost narrowly to Kasukabe Kyouei, but they in turn lost to Touin Gakuin who was blown out at Meiji Jingu to Chikuyou Gakuen.
Moving on to Akashi Shougyou and Matsuyama Seiryou, the former properly dispatched Chiben Wakayama and narrowly lost to Ryuukokudai Heian in 12 despite allowing 16 baserunners. And Heian could have eliminated eventual Meiji Jingu champs Sapporo Ootani if they had just played a clean game (neither did by a wide margin). The 7 walks in that game though is cause for concern. Matsuyama Seiryou meanwhile despite finishing runner-up in the Shikoku super-regional only won one game when they faced named competition, and that was the 3rd place game against Imabari Nishi to advance to the super-regionals. The only interesting bit about them is that they used a bunch of pitchers, never consistently, in each of their games. What that means I’m not sure, but sometimes weaker schools have to leverage what they can.
Finally, there’s the aforementioned Takamatsu Shougyou. 3 years ago they came from nowhere (they hadn’t even made an appearance in 20 years) and reached the finals, losing to Chiben Gakuen. However, that run was on the backs of teams that were for the most part weak, Shuugakukan being the only exception and yet could be argued they had their own handicaps. This time around, they won their super-regional and got a game versus Kousei, but the fact that if not for some late 9th inning runs they would have been “blown out” 7-1 to Seiryou dampens any title chances they might have.
Akashi Shougyou by far has the best chance. They lost to a stingy Ryuukokudai Heian but otherwise looked very solid – which in this particular year might be good enough. The only other school possibly worth mentioning is not the Shikoku champs but the runner-ups Matsuyama Seiryou, but they’re a big “?” at best.
Matsumoto Koukou (Onegai! Series)
- Kasukabe Kyouei
- Touin Gakuen
- Tsuda Gakuen
- Yonago Higashi
These schools have been left by time (a decade at least) and only now are they making their way back to Koushien. Of course, having been gone for so long, you have to wonder what they have to offer now that they’ve returned to the hallowed grounds.
Tsuda Gakuen and Meihou both actually have been to Koushien recently, but 2 years ago for Natsu Koushien. Neither totally impressed, but if you had to take one at the time, you’d probably have taken Meihou.
The same goes for this year’s Haru Koushien as well. Meihou has the better chance out of the two, if nothing else because the pitching has potential for being successful. Despite using 4 pitchers in their loss to Chikuyou Gakuen in the Kyushu Super-Regional Final, they still struck out a batter an inning and did not walk a batter either. Only problem is, they all gave up at least 1 run in their outing. Their best pitcher appears to be Hazama Taiki, but given they’ve used multiple pitchers in their outings, they’ll have to lean on the rest of the staff, which is questionable.
Tsuda Gakuen has their ace Mae Yuito, who has gotten attention for how hard he throws, but when he was asked to throw against Touhou in the Toukai super-regional final he did not fare so well.
Touin Gakuen may have been withholding their ace as much as possible. Apparently, their ace is Hasegawa Hayate, and yet only pitched in the super-regional final. He didn’t even pitch in their only game at Meiji Jingu. Instead, in the early games of the super-regional they turned to #11 Irei Kaito who carried them through their first 3 games, including victories over Jyousou Gakuin, Sano Nichidai and Narashino. It would suggest that they either do not have a true ace, or the person wearing the ace number isn’t actually their ace. However, the lack of offensive output against the middling Kyushu champs Chikuyou Gakuen combined with Irei’s poor performance against them just puts a whole big “?” around their team. Not that they wanted to give the region another team (in case Yokohama wasn’t chosen for the floating bid).
Touin Gakuen’s evaluation then trickles down to Kasukabe Kyouei and Narashino, who both lost to Touin Gakuen. Narashino comes worse off, because already having lost in their prefectural final they get to the aforementioned Irei. Despite that, they might finally have an ace in Iidzuka Shuuto. Kasukabe Kyouei took advantage of errors (which Touin Gakuen is prone to), and scored enough runs to spur them to sending in their ace. It was still in a loss though and they failed to ding Hasegawa for a run, so….
Looking at Kokushikan’s resume a bit deeper perhaps shows why Yokohama was taken instead for the floating bid. First of all, their loss to Sapporo Dai-ichi is actually worse than it appears. The 4 pitchers used struck out 3 while walking 7, and their apparent ace while giving up no runs struck out just 2 and walked 4 over 5 innings. Worse yet, in the final against Toukaidai Sugao they struck out just 1 and walked 2. There’s only so much leeway a pitch-to-contact team can go, and I’m not sure this team can walk that line.
Last of all, Yonago Higashi has a pretty remote chance of making a run. Despite the fact that ace Morishita was not available for their loss against Kouryou in the final, he’s not necessarily fair shakes either. For instance, in their quarterfinal win against Kurashiki Shougyou, he struck out none and walked 2. And while he did much better in the 13 inning affair against Shiritsu Kure, (8 K, 2 BB) there are enough question marks on either side of the ball to toss them out as potential contenders.
- Sapporo Ootani
- Chikuyou Gakuen
- Nisshou Gakuen
- Ishioka Dai-ichi
- Tomioka Nishi
- Kumamoto Nishi
For these schools, Haru Koushien is a completely new experience. While all of them will take it very seriously, others will be looking to enjoy the experience. Either way, these schools generally have the outsidest of outside shots to win the tournament.
But there is one glaring exception and that is Sapporo Ootani. The Hokkaido Super-Regional champions, and the Meiji Jingu champions.
Before we go on though, there needs to be one thing said. The last time a Meiji Jingu champion went on to win the Haru Koushien, you have to go all the way back to the 1997 Yokohama team.
Their ace… Matsuzaka Daisuke.
Before that, you have to go to 1984 and Iwakura (Tokyo). Oddly, the ace – Yamaguchi Shigeyuki, despite beating a PL Gakuen squad that included Kuwata Masumi and Kiyohara Kazuhiro, he was drafted as a position player and unfortunately did not have a successful career.
So, that being said, being the Meiji Jingu champion generally means you’re not winning the Haru Koushien. You’re probably not winning the Natsu Koushien either. Just goes to show how hard it really is to win single eliminations tournaments back-to-back. It also goes to show perhaps that some of the major teams don’t necessarily take the Meiji Jingu tournament seriously.
Because I mean if you winning allows another team from your region to go, and if you were the Kinki champions and that meant Osaka Touin would get in, would you really try that hard to win the tournament?
Keishin on the surface is an interesting case. Coming out of the same region as Seiryou, actually pulling them to a 2-2 draw in the final forcing a replay are certainly non-trivial things. But the part the troubles me is that in the entirety of the super-regionals, the Keishin pitching staff struck out 19…. and walked 24.
Not only is that a K rate of 3.35, but that’s a K/BB rate of 0.79. Not only that, but opposing pitchers strike them out at a clip of 7.06/9 innings.
That’s not good…
7 K/9 doesn’t sound like a whole lot, I know. But if you were to adjust it for the region chances are that probably increases to about a K/IP.
The next 3 schools are the 3 newcomers from the Kyushu region, including champions Chikuyou Gakuen.
Chikuyou Gakuen was a Tier 3 school, who seemingly was destined to stay that way. But they found their way to the Kyushu Super-Regional title, defeating some decent teams in the process. Their wild card seems to be Nishidate Kouta, who didn’t even wear the ace number. He was very stingy with his walks (at most 3 in any one game and a 1.23 BB/9 rate) which is imperative given that he doesn’t quite strikeout the numbers you’d like to see. The offense is what you would expect from a first-timer squad (which isn’t good).
Oita and Nisshou Gakuen both gave up double digit runs to Meihou, and while you think Oita might be the worst off losing to Meihou in the prefecturals and then Chikuyou Gakuen in the super-regionals, it’s actually Nisshou Gakuen who is actually the worst off in this picture. While Oita’s pitchers are not very good, the offense consistently got hits off the opposition. This is in comparison to Nisshou Gakuen whose pitchers are significantly worse (8 K, 21 BB in 25 IP during the super-regionals).
What’s left are the three 21st century teams, almost all of them picked on their actual merit on the baseball field. While that may be the case, Tomioka Nishi and Kumamoto Nishi despite getting to the super-regionals had the same issue (pitching) but for different reasons. For Tomioka Nishi, their ace Ukihashi Kouta both strikes out and walks a large amount of batters. Kumamoto Nishi’s pitchers both strikes out and walks a very low amount of batters. In either case, neither situation is even close to ideal. Ishioka Dai-ichi may have had key revenge wins against teams that continually defeated them but that won’t translate when they get to Koushien.
In all, while the Haru Koushien is in some ways up for grabs, it’s still a handful of teams that could realistically have a shot at actually winning it all. Of course, circumstances could for instance give a team a cake walk to the finals, but all else equal, the teams with an actual fighting chance are:
- Seiryou (Ishikawa) – Generally offense for days, has an ace pitcher but questions linger about his ability to fully carry the team (he probably can’t).
- Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) – Pitching to contact and defense can carry you a long way, but their margin for error is always razor thin. Even last summer when they showed offensive output, it eventually fizzled under the summer heat. Nonetheless, the defense may play up here absent of a true offensive squad (outside of Seiryou).
- Akashi Shougyou (Hyogo) – True ace Miyaguchi Hiroki is supported by a team that seemingly got better as the Kinki taikai progressed. It’s likely then that they stand more than a puncher’s chance once they reach Koushien.
Possible dark horses are:
- Matsuyama Seiryou (Ehime) – The unknowns who came out of nowhere the last time could do so again. Their kantoku, Nikadori Hideaki is not beneath throwing out whatever pitcher he thinks could be useful in a game. Admittedly it is far from pretty, but he for the most part got the job done.
- Touin Gakuen (Kanagawa) – If perhaps Irei can get past his first game of the tournament (which seems to be his worst), he can set the foundation for a title run. Actual ace Hasegawa is still a wild card given his sparse appearances.
- Narashino (Chiba) – I try not to be a homer when it comes to my favorite team. I generally know what they are, a scrappy team with very average pitching – even when carrying a “deeper” pitching staff. Their ace this year gives me a little more hope, but until they prove they’re more than at best a Best 8 run, you can’t take the team too seriously.
- Sapporo Ootani (Hokkaido) – I should just be writing them off outright, but they did defeat Seiryou, who would have had no problems letting Ueda Nishi into the Senbatsu field should they have actually won the Meiji Jingu tournament. What’s baffling is the fact that they won it in the first place despite the fact that for instance they defeated Komadai Tomakomai in the Hokkaido Super-Regional semifinal… without striking out a single batter. If they are to have a chance, there has to be something I’m not seeing here.
- Keishin (Fukui) – Perhaps the longest shot of those with a shot to begin with, their chance is pinned behind the fact that somehow took a full-strength Seiryou, ace Okugawa and all, and played to a 2-2 draw in the Hokushinetsu Super-Regional. This despite the fact their 2 main pitchers walked as many batters as they struck out.