Hanshin Electric Railway gave unofficial word on the 24th that they intend on keeping Yutaka Wada (52) on board as manager next year. With 30 games left this season, Wada’s fourth as manager (a one-year deal), the team is 2.5 games ahead of the second place Giants. They are a season-high 8 games above .500 and are in a good position to win their first pennant in ten years. The “magic number” countdown could start as early as the 28th, and the team has a chance to solidify its lead as they face the Hiroshima Carp (at Mazda Stadium) for three games*, but owner Shinya Sakai (67) has still not made his final decision.
* Translator’s Note: The game on the 25th has been cancelled due to a typhoon. It has been rescheduled for September 25.
“Owner Sakai will make his final decision at the right time about whether or not Manager Wada will be renewed another year, but at this point we have no reason to think it won’t happen,” a team official revealed.
Wada was named team manager in 2012. That first year the team finished 5th but in 2013 placed second. Last year the team also took second, unable to win the pennant despite the team’s imports taking nearly every individual title: Randy Messenger (most wins & strikeouts), Seung-hwan Oh (most saves), Matt Murton (highest average) and Mauro Gomez (most RBIs). This year has also left people questioning his ability.
Though they gave him a one-year renewal this year, the Electric Company has been keeping their eyes on him. The team won its first three games of the year but also had a six-game losing streak amidst a difficult start to the season. It even fell into last at the end of Golden Week (May). But in interleague play, it was the lone club in the Central to finish with a winning record against the dominant Pacific League, going 10-8 and moving into third place. Everyone finally breathed a sigh of relief when on June 24 against Hiroshima (at Toyama), the team grabbed first place.
A three game sweep at the hands of the Giants (at Tokyo Dome) starting on August 18 was followed immediately by a three game sweep of their own against DeNA (at Kyocera Dome). At last the team was showing some resilience. As of the 24th, the team ranked 5th in batting average, home runs and ERA, and has scored 378 runs while giving up 452. Said one Railway Company representative, “This year they are showing the ability to bounce back from defeat well, and they’re getting results.” Even the player development problem is starting to improve. On the forefront are (2014) 3rd round pick Taiga Egoshi (OF – Komazawa U) and second year lefty Suguru Iwazaki.
The team has even seen a boost at the box office. Team executives report that “fans are getting excited about a possible pennant win, and our ticket sales for September are doing great.” At present, not a voice of dissent can be heard when talking about renewing Wada’s contract for another year.
On the 24th, Wada boarded a bullet train at Shin Kobe Station headed for Hiroshima. The team is already 12-6 on its summer road trip; this is the fastest it has secured a winning record in Wada’s tenure as manager. With one last series to go, Wada asserted, “We want to carry this good momentum back with us to Koshien.”
Thirty games to go. Should the team win 4 straight and Hiroshima lose 4 straight, while the Giants lose two, the magic number countdown would officially begin on the 28th. The team would love to beat down the Carp, against whom it fought for second place all of last year, and return to Koshien for the first time in 26 days with the pennant in its sights.
If he gets a fifth year, Wada would be the first manager since (Akinobu) Okada (2004-08) to do so. The Railway Company and the club are leaning in the same direction. Team owner Sakai, who has the final say in management personnel, will wait to see how the pennant race plays out before making his decision. Wada looks to give the team its first title in 10 years and then wait for the call.