A guide to the Chinese Professional Baseball League

Tainan Baseball Stadium in Tainan, Taiwan, in 2007. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

It’s been two weeks since Opening Day was scheduled to take place across Major League Baseball, and there hasn’t been a single pitch thrown. 

Thursday was supposed to be Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day, but that too has been put on hold. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, America’s Pastime isn’t happening anywhere in the States.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening elsewhere.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), the premier professional baseball league in Taiwan, opens its season Saturday. It’s also the first professional baseball league in the world to resume play.

The league doesn’t have the depth and history of MLB, but it offers live baseball, something the world is currently lacking. It also offers a chance to grow the game.  

Current CPBL title-holders Rakuten Monkeys recently made international news for their decision to play games in front of robot mannequins dressed as fans, as league games will be played behind closed doors.

The CPBL isn’t exactly a household name, but it’s the best alternative to baseball-less nights, so it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with it. 

Here’s a crash course on the CPBL in preparation for the season.

The teams

There are currently five teams: Chinatrust Brothers, Fubon Guardians, Rakuten Monkeys (formerly Lamigo Monkeys), Uni-President Lions and the Wei Chuan Dragons, which were refounded in 2019 after being disbanded in 1999.

Each team is owned and named after Taiwanese corporations. The teams manage their own regional markets with home cities, though they don’t just play in their respective markets, as regular-season games are also frequently played at neutral sites, which is why the teams aren’t named after specific cities.

How the season works

The season is similar to MLB in its structure. It typically runs from March to October (although the CPBL opener was pushed back this year due to the pandemic), there is a weeklong all-star break — typically in June or July — and the playoffs occur in late October or early November.

The CPBL differs from MLB due to its split-season model. The all-star break splits the season into two 60-game halves, with a chance at winners of each half-season. The winners of the half-seasons qualify for the playoffs.

A team may also qualify by being given a wild-card berth if it finishes with a higher overall win percentage than any of the two half-season winners. There are variations to this rule, but no matter what, three teams compete in two rounds to determine a champion.

The two rounds are the Playoff Series followed by the Taiwan Series.

In the Playoff Series, the wild-card team plays the half-season winner with the lowest win percentage in a best-of-five series. The winning team advances to the Taiwan Series.

In the Taiwan Series, the half-season winner with the best overall win percentage plays the winner of the Playoff Series.

If a team has won both half-seasons, then the teams with the second and third-highest win percentages are considered wildcard teams and compete in the Playoff Series. The team that wins both half-seasons starts the Taiwan Series 1-0.

How to watch it

There are two ways to watch the CPBL. The first is to pay for CPBL TV, which is roughly $35 a year and gives you access to live streaming and archived games on demand.

The second option is free streaming through Yahoo Sports Taiwan. Only Lions, Brothers and Guardians games are available overseas. Access to all teams requires a subscription to CPBL TV.

Being awake to watch the games is the tricky part. Taiwan is part of Chinese Standard Time, which is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.

Weekday games start at 6:30 p.m. CST (6:30 a.m. in Tampa), weekend games start at 5 p.m. CST (5 a.m. in Tampa) and Sunday games start at 2 p.m. CST (2 a.m. in Tampa), so be ready for an early wake-up or late nights.

The full season schedule is available on the CPBL website, which isn’t in English, but a guide on how to read the schedule was created by CPBL Stats.