Casey McGehee, Hector Luna tearing up the Japanese Leagues

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A month into NPB play, the leading hitters in both the Central and Pacific Leagues are former major leaguers playing in Japan for the first time. Here are some early numbers:

Central League – Hitting

Hector Luna: .402/.462/.624, 3 HR in 117 AB
Matt Murton: .362/.400/.474, 2 HR in 116 AB
Tony Blanco: .346/.423/.841, 16 HR in 107 AB
Jose Lopez: .324/.348/.595, 7 HR in 111 AB
Wladimir Balentien: .317/.447/ 783, 8 HR in 60 AB
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: .298/.367/.368, 0 HR in 114 AB
John Bowker: .296/.351/.662, 6 HR in 71 AB
Lastings Milledge: .246/.320/.368, 2 HR in 114 AB
Brooks Conrad: .180/.328/.280, 0 HR in 50 AB
Kosuke Fukudome: .162/.250/.288, 4 HR in 111 AB
Nyjer Morgan: .132/.250/.132, 0 HR in 38 AB

Luna, Murton and Blanco are the Central League’s top three hitters by average. Murton, who set a Central League record for hits in his NPB debut in 2010, seems to be on the way back up this year after a very disappointing 2012. … Milledge, on the other hand, is struggling after ranking among the league leaders with a .300/.379/.485 line and 21 homers in his debut for Yakult last year. … Fukudome ranks last among qualifiers in batting average in his return to Japan.

Central League – Pitching

Daniel Cabrera: 3-1, 1.09 ERA, 25/10 K/BB in 33 IP
Bryan Bullington: 2-1, 2.22 ERA, 27/6 K/BB in 44 2/3 IP
Brad Bergesen: 1-1, 4.43 ERA, 9/9 K/BB in 22 1/3 IP
Kam Mickolio: 1.35 ERA, 5 Sv, 7/5 K/BB in 13 1/3 IP
Scott Mathieson: 2.38 ERA, 7 Hd, 13/5 K/BB in 11 1/3 IP

Bullington, an MLB bust after being drafted first overall by the Pirates in 2002, made headlines for all of the wrong reasons the other day, intentionally plunking a hitter who had asked for time.

Pacific League – Hitting

Casey McGehee: .396/.476/.637, 5 HR in 91 AB
Esteban German: .367/.473/.411, 0 HR in 90 AB
Tadahito Iguchi: .318/.434/.466, 1 HR in 88 AB
Bryan LaHair: .314/.375/.598, 7 HR in 102 AB
Michel Abreu: .298/.359/.606, 9 HR in 94 AB
Andruw Jones: .247/.398/.416, 4 HR in 89 AB
Kaz Matsui: .244/.284/.400, 2 HR in 90 AB
Wily Mo Pena: .208/.279/.260, 0 HR in 77 AB
Ryan Spilborghs: .197/.271/.279, 1 HR in 61 AB

It can’t be great for baseball pride that no Japanese player is in the top three in hitting in either circuit right now. Sandwiched in between McGehee and German atop the Pacific League list is Korean superstar Dae-Ho Lee. … Wily Mo is sporting an incredibly unusual line in 77 at-bats, suggesting that he’s battling some sort of injury. He hit .280 with 21 homers for Softbank last year.

Pacific League – Pitching

Brandon Dickson: 3-1, 2.18 ERA, 20/8 K/BB in 33 IP
Brandon Duckworth: 1-3, 4.71 ERA, 16/10 K/BB in 28 2/3 IP
Brian Falkenborg: 0.75 ERA, 6 Sv, 12/1 K/BB in 12 IP
Dennis Sarfate: 0.00 ERA, 2 Hd, 6/6 K/BB in 9 1/3 IP
Vicente Padilla: 5.40 ERA, 2/4 K/BB in 5 IP

Padilla, after Andruw Jones probably Japan’s most notable import over the winter, has been dealing with forearm soreness, but he’s back pitching for Softbank now.

Zach Britton receives stem cell injection, likely done for the season

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Orioles closer Zach Britton is likely done for the remainder of the 2017 season after receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee, Peter Schmuck and Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun report. Britton has been battling knee problems for most of the season.

The Orioles are still technically in the AL Wild Card race, entering play Thursday 5.5 games behind the Twins for the second Wild Card slot. With only nine games remaining, however, the 73-80 Orioles are likely being realistic about their chances and not taking any unnecessary risks with Britton.

Britton, 29, put up a 2.89 ERA with 15 saves and a 29/18 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings this season. He will be eligible for arbitration for the fourth and final time this offseason.

Dodgers can clinch NL West on Friday

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The Dodgers staved off a four-game series sweep at the hands of the Phillies, winning 5-4 on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. The win reduced their magic number in the NL West to one, meaning that a win against the Giants at home or a Diamondbacks loss to the Marlins on Friday will result in clinching the division.

Of course, the Dodgers winning and the Diamondbacks losing hasn’t exactly been a sure thing lately. The D-Backs rattled off a 13-game winning streak from August 24 through September 6. The Dodgers lost 11 games in a row from September 2-11 and were on a four-game slide before Thursday’s win.

The Dodgers will send Rich Hill to the mound to start opposite Jeff Samardzija. The Diamondbacks have Zack Greinke opposing Adam Conley.