Shugo Maki of Team Japan practices during a training session at Tokyo Dome on March 14, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. Maki hit a career-high 29 homers for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in 2023. (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
The 2023 Nippon Professional Baseball regular season is complete, and the top three Pacific and Central League franchises have qualified for the Climax Series.
The three teams in the Central League that have qualified for the playoffs are the Hanshin Tigers (85-53-5), Hiroshima Toyo Carp (74-65-4), and the Yokohama DeNA BayStars (74-66-3).
The Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Yokohama DeNA BayStars will face off in a three-game series in the First Stage from Saturday, October 14 to Monday, October 16. The winner of that series will take on the Hanshin Tigers in a six-game series in the Final Stage.
Hanshin Tigers (85-53-5)
Hanshin has secured home field and a one-game advantage in the Final Stage for capturing first place in the Central League. They finished with the second-best record in Nippon Professional Baseball, behind only the Orix Buffaloes (86-53). The 2023 season was the first time the Tigers have clinched a Central League pennant since 2005. Outfielder Teruaki Sato leads the Tigers. He ended the regular season with 24 home runs and 92 RBI in 132 games. On the mound, Shoki Murakami was dominant. He posted a 1.75 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 144.1 innings for Hanshin. The Hanshin Tigers have won one Japan Series championship in 1985.
Hiroshima Toyo Carp (74-65-4)
The best hitter and most consistent position player for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 2023 was Ryoma Nishikawa. The outfielder led the team with 127 hits and 176 total bases. His teammate, starting pitcher Aren Kuri, was fantastic on the mound in his 174.1 innings this season. Although Kuri struck out only 6.7 of the batters he faced per nine innings, he gave up just eight home runs all year. Hiroshima has won three Japan Series championships, most recently in 1984.
Yokohama DeNA BayStars (74-66-3)
Yokohama finished the season just three games ahead of the Yomiuri Giants to clinch third place in the Central League. Second baseman Shugo Maki shined bright during the regular season, posting career-highs with 29 home runs, 103 RBI, and 296 total bases. The pitching rotation features potential future Major League Baseball pitcher Shota Imanaga and former MLB Cy Young Trevor Bauer. The lefty Imanaga struck out 174 in 148 innings, and the right-hander Bauer had a 10-4 win-loss record in 19 games. The BayStars have won two Japan Series championships, most recently in 1998.
The Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Yokohama DeNA BayStars will play game one of their best-of-three First Stage series on Saturday, October 14, at midnight ET. Games two and three are also scheduled for midnight ET start times.
The Central League Final Stage winner will compete in the Japan Series against the Pacific League Final Stage winner. The best-of-seven Japan Series is scheduled to begin on Saturday, October 28, and game seven is planned for Sunday, November 5. The Orix Buffaloes of the Pacific League are the defending champions.
2023 Central League Final Regular Season Standings
1. Hanshin Tigers – 85-53-5
2. Hiroshima Toyo Carp – 74-65-4
3. Yokohama DeNA BayStars – 74-66-3
4. Yomiuri Giants – 71-70-2
5. Tokyo Yakult Swallows – 57-83-3
6. Chunichi Dragons – 56-82-5