Chunichi and Hiroshima, each with 25 games left in the season, will face off this week in a three game series that starts tomorrow night. Hiroshima currently holds a two game lead over the Dragons for third place and for the final berth to the playoffs in the Central League. The two teams will play one more head-to-head series at the end of month, but this upcoming series may have a huge impact on which of these teams advances to the playoffs.
I don't think Chunichi can afford to lose this series, they definitely can't afford to be swept. Asking a team that's been winning only 44% of their games to make up three or five games over the final twenty-two is probably too much. On the other hand if the Dragons could sweep or take two of three things could be very interesting down the stretch.
Winning this series won't be easy for Chunichi, they'll be in playing at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima and though Chunichi has been a better road team than a home team this year I assume the Hiroshima fans will be in force to support a team on the verge of making the playoffs after a very, very long drought. Hiroshima will also be throwing two of their best pitchers, Kenta Maeda is scheduled for Game 1 and he's obviously having a great season. In the past Chunichi has done moderately well against Maeda but this season he's been dominant. Kan Otake will likely pitch in one of the other two games. Otake always seems to do better against Chunichi than he does against the rest of the league, so he'll be tough. Kyohei Nakamura may get the other start for Hiroshima, it would be his turn, but they also may go with someone else because of magnitude of this series.
It looks like Chunichi will counter Hiroshima's starters with Kenichi Nakata, Yudai Ono and Kenshin Kawakami. Nakata had a rough start last time out against Yakult. Hopefully he can bounce back, he's been a key contributor this year. Ono's been on a good streak, but will be pitching on less than a week's rest. Kawakami's pitched well in his two starts since returning from injury though he hasn't gone deep into games, but with how well Chunichi's bullpen has been going they shouldn't need him to.
Both teams are evenly matched so the series, and in turn the season, could be turned either way by just a play or two. The first game looks like a tough match-up, but if Chunchi can keep it close and make it a battle of the bullpens they could win it. The second match-up is a coin flip and Chunichi probably has a slight advantage in the third game. I think the Dragons can take two out of three and keep things interesting, but we shall see. It's getting to be that time of the season, so let's get fired up Dragons fans!!!