By Yoon Chul
The long regular season ended just a week ago, but the third-placed Doosan Bears and fourth-ranked Lotte Giants will engage in the first game of the best-of-five Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) playoff first round at Jamsil Stadium, Wednesday.
The intrigue in the first round is how each of the starters will stand up to the league best offensive teams’ firepower.
The Giants’ team batting average, number of home runs, and slugging average are No. 1 in the league with .288, 185 and .461 and the Seoul-based team is second with .281, 149 and .441. The Bears are better than
Giants in offense in terms of on base percentage with .365 (2nd) than .352 (4th).
Meanwhile Doosan’s ERA ranks sixth at 4.82 with their opponents at fifth with 4.62.
Both teams’ key batters, positioned from third to fifth in the lineup, are more than enough to threaten the man standing on the mound.
The three key Giants batters are Lee Dae-ho, Hong Sung-heon, and Karim Garcia.
Lee, who stands atop seven batting categories for the first time in KBO history, has 44 homers, 133 RBIs and bats .364.
Hong missed a few games at the end of season due to injury while battling Lee for the best average and most RBIs, marked .350 with 116 RBIs and 26 dingers.
Though Garcia’s batting average (.252) is less fearful he has proved that he is strong when runners are on the scoring position piling up 83 RBIs.
The other two hitters Kang Min-ho (.305, 23 home runs 72 RBIs) and Cho Sung-hwan (.336, 8 home runs, 52 RBIs) are competitive enough to distract the Bears’ hurlers from solely focusing on the three key hitters.
Lee and Hong have shown their prowess against the Bears this season, batting .412 with 10 homers, 28 RBIs and .455, 8 dingers and 23 RBIs respectively.
The Giants’ concern lies in whether their two leading hitters, who didn’t play much at the end of season due to injury, regain their form.
The Bears lineup is not as formidable as the Giants but still competitive. Five hitters had more than 20 home runs in the regular season.
Led by Kim Hyun-soo, who recorded .317, 24 homers and 89 RBIs, veteran Kim Dong-joo (.295, 20 home runs, 67 RBIs) and Choi Joon-seok (.321, 22 home runs, 82 RBIs).
During last season’s first round playoff against the Giants they led the team’s 3-1 series win generating three home runs and 13 RBIs.
“The Giants’ firepower is tremendous,” Bears captain Son Si-heon said. “But the short-term series is definitely different. And there are many players in the lineup of the Giants, who don’t have experience playing in the big games,” Son said.
On the mound Giants boss Jerry Royster has decided on Song Seung-jun, who collected the most wins among the Giants hurlers with a 14-6 record.
In the last nine games Song gathered six wins with 3.79 ERA which is better than his season’s 4.39. But Song’s record against the Bears is only 1-2 marking 4.29.
Lotte’s import starter Ryan Sadowski (10-8, 3.87) and Jang Won-jun (12-6, 4.43) are likely to pitch in the next two games.
Meanwhile Bears manager Kim Kyung-moon will start import ace Kelvin Jimenez (14-5, 3.32) in Game 1 and domestic ace Kim Sun-woo will appear in the next game.
As both teams have weak bullpens, it is very important the starters in the first playoff game get through a number of innings. If a pitcher is dominated by the opponents’ batters early, it will be tough for his side to win the series.
Song and Jimenez met once on July 18 at Jamsil Stadium and Jimenez completed the game allowing just one run while Song pitched eight innings giving up three.