Olympic stars in action as NPB 2022 season opens on 25 March

Olympic stars in action as NPB 2022 season opens on 25 March
The defending champions Tokyo Yakult Swallows open at the Kyocera Dome against the Hanshin Tigers. Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medalists Munetaka Murakami, Tetsuto Yamada, Kodai Senga, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Masahiro Tanaka are amongst the players to watch.

The Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) 2022 season opens on Friday, 25 March.

In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants will host the Chunichi Dragons at the Tokyo Dome. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp will travel to Yokohama to face the DeNA BayStars, and the Hanshin Tigers will face the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at the Kyocera Dome.

In the Pacific League, the Rakuten Golden Eagles will host the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Orix Blue Buffaloes will travel to the Belluna Dome to play the Seibu Lions. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks will host the Nippon Ham Fighters at the PayPay Dome.

The All-Star Games are scheduled for 26 July at the Fukuoka PayPay Dome and 27 July at the Matsuyama Botchan Stadium.

The playoffs (Climax Series) will open on Saturday, 8 October.

The best-of-seven Japan Series will open on Saturday, 22 October. Game four is scheduled for Wednesday, 26 October. Game seven is scheduled for Sunday, 30 October.

The Yomiuri Giants, despite a third-place finish in 2021, are seen as the team to beat in the Central League. Dominican slugger Gregory Polanco, who has over 800 Major League Baseball (MLB) games under his belt, joined the team to improve run production.

The Hanshin Tigers, who finished second in the regular season before losing to the Yomiuri Giants in the first round of the playoffs, will be in the mix for the title. Their pitching was the league's best in 2021. They will need to score more runs to get to the next level.

The defending champions Yakult Swallows will rely once again on their pitching staff. They may miss the contribution of star closer Robert Suarez. Kyle Keller is the leading candidate for the role. Olympic stars Munetaka Murakami and Tetsuto Yamada will lead the offense.

At least four teams get credit as competitors in the Pacific League. The Chiba Lotte Marines, after back-to-back second places, look like the team to beat. Import sluggers Brandon Laird and Leonys Martin combined 56 home runs in 2021.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medalist Kodai Senga will be the ace of the rotation for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. They finished a disappointing fourth in 2021 after winning four consecutive Japan Series.

The Orix Buffaloes lost the 2021 Japan Series but still count on a solid rotation, led by Olympic gold medalist Yoshinobu Yamamoto (pictured).

Former MLB All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Masahiro Tanaka is the ace of the Rakuten Golden Eagles. His former teammate with the New York Yankees, Chris Gittens, joined the team to improve run production.

Former NPB and MLB star Tsuyoshi Shinjo, the first-year manager of the Nippon Ham-Fighters, is already a fan favourite. He asked to use the fan's nickname for him BossBoss, as his official name. Shinjo succeeded Hideki Kuriyama, who is currently Samurai Japan's manager.