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(From The Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri)
2006 Japanese baseball special: Central League team comments
By Jim Allen & John E. Gibson/Daily Yomiuri Sportswriters
The defending CL champion Tigers have everyone returning after an off-season that was filled with the motivation of being blown out of the Japan Series by the Chiba Lotte Marines in four games.
The team's mainstay is quality pitching, but part of its vaunted "JFK" bullpen trio of Jeff Williams, Kyuji Fujikawa and closer Tomoyuki Kubota has taken a blow.
Williams, who underwent surgery on his left arm in the off-season, has had to go through another procedure and reportedly might not be available until June. But the Tigers didn't have the best team ERA in Japan on the strength of one arm. Fujikawa, who logged a Japan record with 80 regular-season appearances in 2005, led the CL in holds by protecting leads 46 times while Williams had 37.
Kubota saved 27 games, but appeared in 68 games and posted a 2.12 ERA in 80-2/3 innings.
Thinking inside the box, the heart of Hanshin's lineup pounded pitching last year. The Tigers put together a .274 team batting average in 2005--good enough to produce a league-high 731 runs--and Makoto Imaoka drove in a club-record 147 runs and had 29 homers.
League MVP Tomoaki Kanemoto, also known as "Big Brother," had the big bat for the Tigers, hitting in the cleanup spot and at times carrying Hanshin while amassing 40 homers and 125 RBIs.
According to Imaoka, the club has committed to not having the same kind of letdown it suffered …