The Dragons start their season with a 3 game series at Jingu Stadium against the Swallows, followed by a series against the Baystars, in Yokohama, from Tuesday. The first home series will be against the Carp on the 26th.
How things will happen is a bit different to the regular season. The Central League has scrapped the Climax Series to save time and fit in more regular season games while the Pacific League will have a shortened version of. Interleague has also been scrapped. In the Central League it will be first past the post that goes to the Japan Series just like the days of yore. Games are also limited to 10 innings so we won't see any 12 inning ties like we have in the past, once again in an effort to save time and keep players fresh. International players will also be given another space on the roster for the time being so cool-off times become less of an issue. Teams can have up to 5 international players on their roster but only 4 can take the field in one game. Overall, 120 games will be played meaning a reduction of 23 games (plus the Climax Series).
The Dragons themselves will be raring to go with Yudai Ono given opening day duties for the first time in 3 years. 2019 saw Shotaro Kasahara open things up while 2018 was a younger Shinnosuke Ogasawara. Ono has looked good enough in pre-season and it looks like Kazuki Yoshimi and Kodai Umetsu will be backing him up in Tokyo over this weekend. In the back-end of the rotation, we'll likely see a combo of Takumi Yamamoto and rookie Yuichiro Okano with the 6th spot still a bit up in the air. Yuya Yanagai and Shinnosuke Ogasawara are the likely candidates to fill that role. We'll still have to wait and see what the back-end of the rotation looks like, but it's possible that Yoshimi might be shifted to take spot starts with the aforementioned duo slotting in to his old spot.
As for the roster, two rookies have made it to starting day with Yuki Hashimoto working out the bullpen and Yuya Gunji behind the dish. Takuma Kato looks the most likely to get a work out on opening day, but we'll probably see Gunji at some point in the near future. Hashimoto, let's face it, will probably see some work on Saturday after 5 good or 3 terrible innings from Yoshimi. Luis Gonzalez, Raidel Martinez, Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo all make the opening day roster with Moises Sierra missing out. Enny Romero is still injured.
The roster however has come together as follows but keep in mind there are still at least 2 starters that will be registered later for the games against Yokohama.
Pitchers: Yuki Hashimoto, Katsuki Matayoshi, Yuya Yanagi, Kazuki Yoshimi, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Kodai Umetsu, Daisuke Sobue, Hiroto Fuku, Hiroshi Suzuki, Luis Gonzalez, Raidel Martinez
Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Yuya Gunji, Takuma Kato
Infielders: Yota Kyoda, Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Shun Ishikawa, Nobumasa Fukuda, Naomichi Donoue, Dayan Viciedo
Outfielders: Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Issei Endo, Masataka Iryo, Masaru Watanabe, Zoilo Almonte, Kengo Takeda
A pretty well rounded team with no big suprises. Shun Ishikawa coming in as a pinch-hitter seems to make sense while Hiroshi Suzuki gets a chance to prove himself as an NPB level reliever again. Otherwise the team looks much like it did last year with the additions of Gonzalez, Gunji and Hashimoto. Matayoshi's stocks have risen again and he'll be back supporting the middle-back end of the bullpen.
Overall, who isn't excited to just see some baseball!? There won't be any crowds, but there will be plenty of people looking on with the MLB still on hold and the Japanese fans hungry to see their teams back in action. With COVID-19 still doing the rounds in Japan there's no certainty that the teams will be able to play the full 120 games in any case, but at least the foot is out the door.
*Yakult Swallows vs Chunichi Dragons @ Meiji Jingu Stadium, starts on 19th June at 18:00 (JST).