The Kyocera Dome Osaka will host games one, two, six and seven of the 2023 Japan Series between the Orix Buffaloes and the Hanshin Tigers. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
The Nippon Professional Baseball season is down to two teams: the Orix Buffaloes and Hanshin Tigers.
Orix eliminated the Chiba Lotte Marines in four games in the Pacific League Final Stage, and Hanshin swept the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in the Central League Final Stage. The Buffaloes are the defending champions, and 2023 will be the organization’s third consecutive trip to the Japan Series. After a nine-year hiatus, the Tigers returned to the Japan Series, having last clinched a Central League pennant in 2014.
The 2023 Japan Series will be the first since 1964 to have two teams from the Kansai region compete. The Nankai Hawks defeated the Hanshin Tigers 3-0 in game seven at Koshien Stadium in 1964 to win the NPB championship.
Game one of the 2023 Japan Series will occur on Saturday, October 28, at 5:30 a.m. ET at Kyocera Dome Osaka, home of the Orix Buffaloes.
Orix Buffaloes (86-53-4)
The Buffaloes defeated the Chiba Lotte Marines 3-2 in game four of the Pacific League Final Stage to clinch their third straight trip to the Japan Series.
Left-handed pitcher Hiroya Miyagi threw six scoreless innings, and catcher Tomoya Mori hit a two-run home run in the first inning.
“We haven’t been able to hit many in these games, so hitting one in the first inning gave us extra energy,” Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima told the Japan Times. Mori hit an RBI double in the sixth inning to extend the lead to 3-0, and the Buffaloes bullpen held the Marines to two runs in the final three innings to clinch the pennant.
The top pitcher on the Orix Buffaloes is Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who is expected to be posted during the winter and could be offered a contract worth nearly $200 million to come to Major League Baseball. In seven innings in game one of the Final Stage, Yamamoto allowed five earned runs on 10 hits, walked two, and struck out nine. Yamamoto did not pitch in another game during the series, and will likely be the Buffaloes’ starting pitcher in game one of the Japan Series. He had a 1.21 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 23 starts in the regular season.
The best hitters for the Buffaloes during the regular season were first baseman Yuma Tongu and Final Stage game four hero Tomoya Mori. In 113 games, Tongu hit .307 with 16 home runs and 49 RBI. Mori led the team with 18 home runs, 64 RBI, and had a .893 OPS.
The Buffaloes are not aggressive on the basepaths as a team, swiping just 52 bags in 84 attempts. Outfielder Tokumasa Chano led Orix with seven stolen bases. However, they hit 109 home runs during the regular season and had five players with 10-plus blasts. The pitching staff posted a minuscule 2.73 ERA, allowing 391 earned runs in 1,290 innings.
Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima has helped lead his team to three straight Japan Series and holds a 232-173 win-loss record as manager since 2021. Nakajima hopes to win a second-straight championship and is excited for the upcoming challenge against the Hanshin Tigers.
“I think everyone is going to see a passionate Kansai Series, one that will excite the nation,” Nakajima told reporters after clinching the Pacific League pennant.
Hanshin Tigers (85-53-5)
Unlike the Buffaloes, the Hanshin Tigers have not won a Japan Series championship since 1985, when they defeated the Saitama Seibu Lions in six games. To clinch the 2023 pennant, the Tigers completed a three-game sweep of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in the Central League Final Stage.
The Tigers won game three 4-2 on Friday in front of their home crowd at Koshien Stadium. The game was tied at two at the start of the sixth inning, and the Tigers scored one run in the sixth and seventh innings. Catcher Seishiro Sakamoto was the top hitter for the Tigers in the game, hitting two go-ahead RBI singles.
Hanshin scored 10 runs during the Final Stage, and the pitching staff held Hiroshima to just four. Still, Tigers manager Akinobu Okada believes there is room for improvement for his team at the plate.
“We pitched the way we did in the regular season, but our batters weren’t able to do that,” Okada told reporters. “But in the end, we played like a championship team.”
The best hitters in Okada’s starting lineup during the regular season were outfielder Teruaki Soto and third baseman Yusuke Ohyama. Soto led the team with 92 RBI and posted an impressive .837 OPS. Even more impressive, he has hit 68 career home runs in his first three seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. The 28-year-old Ohyama led the Tigers with 99 walks and hit 19 home runs.
The Tigers received solid pitching performances from all three starters in the Final Stage, but Masashi Itoh had the best outing in game two. In seven innings, Itoh allowed just one earned run on five hits in the 2-1 win last Thursday. Suguru Iwazaki could be the best option out of the bullpen for Hanshin. He posted a 1.77 ERA and struck out 62 in 56 innings in 2023.
The support from Tigers fans was evident during the Final Stage, and manager Akinobu Okada and the Hanshin players were grateful to the fans.
“The support we received from the home fans was on a different level from the regular season,” Okada told the media. “At times, I thought it made some players emotional to the point of tears.”
Hanshin will undoubtedly need that level of support to help propel them to their first championship since 1985.
2023 Japan Series Schedule
Game 1 – Saturday, October 28 at 5:30 a.m. ET – Kyocera Dome Osaka
Game 2 – Sunday, October 29 at 5:30 a.m. ET – Kyocera Dome Osaka
Game 3 – Tuesday, October 31 at 5 a.m. ET – Koshien Stadium
Game 4 – Wednesday, November 1 at 5 a.m. ET – Koshien Stadium
Game 5 – Thursday, November 2 at 5 a.m. ET – Koshien Stadium
Game 6 – Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 a.m. ET – Kyocera Dome Osaka
Game 7 – Sunday, November 5 at 4:30 a.m. ET – Kyocera Dome Osaka