Gusts of up to 220kph from Typhoon Fanapi, along with ample rain nationwide, forced league officials to call off both games scheduled for Sunday afternoon in southern Taiwan, but it does not keep serious baseball fans from looking forward to post-season play with the top-ranked Brother Elephants closing in on the second-half title and the first-half champs the Sinon Bulls holding their ground to prepare for another playoffs run.
Also struggling to keep their playoff hopes alive are the defending champs, the Uni-President Lions, who trail La New Bears by two-and-a-half games in the race for a third-place finish that will earn them a trip into the post-season for the fifth straight year.
With their trio of foreign starters in Carlos Castillo, Orlando Roman and Jim Magrane, all of whom have at least 11 wins to their credit, the Elephants are undoubtedly the favorites for this postseason, even with a lineup that is batting .262 collectively with a 3.92 runs-per-game scoring average.
“Good pitching will always win you games,” first-year Elephants coach Chen Rei-chen told the Taipei Times last week, showing tremendous satisfaction in his young players considering the fact that the Elephants had lost their entire starting rotation in a game-fixing scandal last year.
While things are looking quite rosy for the Elephants, the Sinon Bulls have stumbled of late with a losing record of 23-1-24 in the second half, not to mention an eight-game losing skid against the Elephants, well short of their 36-1-23 mark in the first half.
However, manager Hsu Sheng-ming seems to be confident that his crew will rise to the occasion in the final three weeks of play.
Lefty Lin Ying-jeh is hitting his spots in the strike zone and veterans Yang Jien-fu and Shoda Itsuki are finding their grooves to complement a potent offense that features sluggers Chang Tai-shan and Lin Yi-chuan. The former is leading the league in total RBIs (74) and the latter batting an outstanding .347, second to the Elephants’ Peng “Chia Chia” Cheng-min.
Lurking not far behind the Elephants and the Bulls are the Bears, who are missing a legitimate staff ace even though they have three of the top five RBI men in the league in Lin Chih-sheng, Lin Hong-yu and Chung Cheng-yo with more than 200 combined RBIs in 110 games.
Last, but not least, in the playoff hunt are the Lions who have the most experienced starting pitching with veterans Luther Hackman and Pan “Du Du” Wei-luen leading the way to offset a sluggish offense that is last in the league in hitting (.248) and total runs per game (3.69).
For the Lions to have a chance of making the playoffs, they must win at least six of the nine remaining games on their schedule and hope for a disastrous finish by the Bears as the cats face the possibility of missing the post-season for the first time in six years.
Today’s game sees the Sinon Bulls take on La New Bears in Kaohsiung at 6:35pm. There was no game yesterday