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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Will Shohei Ohtani Become MLB’s First 50-30 Player?

The dynamic Los Angeles Angels star has a shot at achieving this unique display of power and speed, while only four MLB players have had more than 40 homers and 40 steals in the same season.

Ed Odeven

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Is Shohei Ohtani on the verge of becoming MLB’s first member of the 50-30 club?

While swinging for the fences, the powerful left-handed hitter has also exhibited impressive speed throughout the season. He even stole home on September 1, doing so for the first time in his MLB career.

As a result, Ohtani could finish his fourth MLB season with more than 50 home runs and 30 stolen bases. 

With 20 games remaining (as of Sunday, September 12) on the Los Angeles Angels schedule, the possibility is tantalizing. 

The 27-year-old star has 23 stolen bases through Saturday, September 11. He’s been caught stealing nine times this season.

Only four players in MLB history have cobbled together 40-40 seasons: Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano.

The 30-30 benchmark, on the other hand, is a target that exemplifies a more reachable display of power and speed. MLB players have achieved the feat 62 times, with Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns being the first, with 39 homers and 37 stolen bases in 1922. 

Ohtani cracked his MLB-leading 44th home run on Friday, September 10 against the Houston Astros. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays is second with 43 homers and Kansas City Royals slugger Salvador Perez has 42.

After Friday’s game, Ohtani acknowledged that he hopes to finish the season as MLB’s home-run king.

“It’s definitely something I’m shooting for,” Ohtani told reporters through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I just need to get back to the basics and try to have quality at-bats as much as I can.”

Ohtani also took the loss and fell to 9-2, yielding six runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings in a 10-5 defeat. He had been 8-0 since May 28.

Darvish Ends Long Losing Streak

San Diego Padres hurler Yu Darvish slammed the door on a seven-game personal losing streak on Wednesday, September 8. In doing so, he won his first game since June 21.

Darvish (8-9) pitched six innings of one-run ball against the visiting Los Angeles Angels to pick up the win, scattering three hits in San Diego’s 8-5 decision. He fanned seven batters and issued one walk. 

Making his third start since coming off the injured list with a back injury, Darvish pitched effectively and found his comfort zone. 

“I threw freely and it felt good. I just left it to my senses,” Darvish was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. “My fastball was working and my changeup was there too.” 

Darvish, who was second in the National League in Cy Young Award voting last year, yielded four runs in six innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 26, then was tagged for five earned runs in 2⅔ innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 1.

Tigers Continue Impressive Run to Postseason

Hanshin Tigers hurler Takumi Akiyama picked up his 10th victory of the season on Saturday, September 11 as the Central League club improved to an NPB-best 61-44-4.

Akiyama (10-5) allowed just one hit ー a solo homer to Ryoma Nishikawa with two outs in the seventh inning ー in the Tigers’ 4-1 victory over the Hiroshima Carp at Mazda Stadium. He struck out three.

“I’m relieved first of all,” said Akiyama, reflecting on his performance, according to Kyodo News. “I wasn’t aiming for [a no-hitter], and wasn’t thinking about it at all.”

Tennis

Will Osaka Return to the Pro Tour Next Month?

Since her third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open on September 4, the timing of Naomi Osaka’s next match has been a topic of considerable interest.

Especially because the four-time Grand Slam singles champion said after the match that she is considering taking another break from the sport without a specific timetable in mind.

Osaka’s return may be in just a few weeks. The world’s third-ranked women’s singles player is listed in the field of entrants for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, October 4-17.


Boxing

Nakatani Retains Flyweight Title with Fourth-Round TKO

Making his first title defense, WBO flyweight champion Junto Nakatani recorded a fourth-round technical knockout victory over Puerto Rican challenger Angel Acosta on Friday, September 10 in Tucson, Arizona.

Nakatani improved to 22-0 (17 knockouts). Acosta fell to 22-3 (21 KOs).

The ringside doctor stopped the fight as Acosta was bleeding profusely.

Nakatani’s powerful punches broke Acosta’s nose in the first round at Casino Del Sol. 

“I caught him in the first round right in the nose, and I was able to use my pace to fight him, so that worked out really well,” the 23-year-old Nakatani, a Mie Prefecture native, told reporters. “When they first checked his nose, I knew [it was broken].”

Soccer

World Cup Qualifying Update: Japan Splits Pair of Matches This Month

The Japan men’s national team defeated China 1-0 on Yuya Osako’s 40th-minute goal on Tuesday, September 7 in Doha.

As a result, the Samurai Blue rebounded from a shock 1-0 loss to Oman in a World Cup qualifier on September 2 in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

“The players were determined to rebound and it created a good energy for the match against China. They won with hard work and smart play,” Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu told reporters, according to Kyodo News.

Up next: Japan is scheduled to play at Asian Group B foe Saudi Arabia on October 8, followed by an October 12 tilt against Australia at Saitama Stadium.

Saudi Arabia and Australia lead Group B with six points apiece in the final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Grampus Match J. League Clean Sheet Record

Nagoya Grampus recorded their 18th shutout of the J. League season on Friday, September 10, defeating Tokushima Vortis 3-0 in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture.

The victory was Grampus’ 18th clean sheet of the season, tying the single-season league record set by Yokohama F. Marinos in 1995.

Through games of September 11, Grampus sat in third place tied with Sagan Tosu (50 points apiece) in the J. League standings, trailing Marinos (65) and defending champion Kawasaki Frontale (66).

Japan Drops Plan to Host Club World Cup

The 2021 FIFA Club World Cup will not be staged in Japan in December, the Japan Football Association confirmed on Thursday, September 9.

The decision was announced after the JFA’s board of directors held a meeting. Pandemic-related factors, including an expected cap on spectators and related expenses to stage the event, were cited in published reports as being behind the JFA’s decision.

The Club World Cup, which features six continental club champions and the host nation’s league champion (the J. League would have been represented here), was to begin on December 9. 

“FIFA can confirm that it has been informed today by the JFA that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hosting situation in the country, they are no longer in a position to host the FIFA Club World Cup 2021,” FIFA said in a statement.

Options still remain. FIFA could cancel or postpone the tournament or seek an alternative host.

Olympics

IOC Sanctions North Korea Over Withdrawal from Tokyo Games

North Korea pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics in April due to COVID-19 concerns, and now faces consequences for violating the Olympic charter, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced on Wednesday, September 8.

The IOC has suspended the North Korean National Olympic Committee until the end of next year. This ban would likely prevent North Korean athletes from participating in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, though a formal decision on that matter will be addressed at a later date, Bach said. 

The NKNOC will now forfeit money from past Olympics, funds that had been frozen due to international sanctions, according to published reports. 

Basketball

B3 Continues to Grow as Sixth Season Approaches

The B. League’s third division, aka B3, has increased from 11 teams to 15 for the 2021-22 campaign, which tips off on October 1.

The Yamaguchi Patriots, Nagasaki Velca, Altiri Chiba and Shinagawa City Basketball Club are new teams.

Also, the B3 team formerly known as Tokyo Excellence has moved its home base to Kanagawa Prefecture. The squad is now known as Yokohama Excellence.

Judo

Olympic Champion Arai Announces Retirement

Chizuru Arai, the women’s under-70 kg gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, announced her retirement on Friday, September 10.

The 27-year-old Arai has expressed an interest in becoming a judo coach.

“After the Games, I felt a deep desire to live my second life,” Arai said, according to judoinside.com. “Thanks to judo, I have had a multitude of different experiences, met a lot of great people, which enriched me by allowing me to develop my personality.”

Arai captured under-70 kg world titles in 2017 and 2018.

RELATED:
OLYMPICS | Japan’s Medal Tally Establishes New Benchmark for Nation’s Athletes


Sumo

Follow the Action from Ryogoku Kokugikan

Look for daily coverage of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament on JAPAN Forward’s SportsLook website. The 15-day tournament got underway on Sunday, September 12.

Veteran sports reporter Jim Armstrong is providing news coverage and analysis of the Autumn Basho.

Quotes of the Week

“At the 2019 World Cup, I felt we reached our limits by getting to the last eight. Next time, I want to surpass that. I want to make it to the final.”

Michael Leitch, captain of the Japan rugby national team, speaking about his hopes for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

“I am very happy to work under Brian Orser and his team, who have produced many top skaters [including Yuzuru Hanyu], as I aim for the Beijing Olympics.”

Rika Kihira, a two-time Four Continents champion, discussing her decision to move her training base to Toronto.



Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.