1. kt wizz: Won 7, Lost 1.
A fairytale opening week (and a bit) for a club which finished bottom in 2015 and 2016. They’ve started their season with whitewashes against SK Wyverns (away) and Samsung Lions (home) either side of a split series against the defending champions.
WWWLWWWW. How good does that look and, honestly, who saw it coming?
Pitching is the key. After 8 games, the team has a combined ERA of 1 and a WHIP of 0.9. They are only batting .209 as a team but when you’re shutting out Samsung twice, you can afford a rest.
It is far too early to believe that kt could emulate some of 2016’s great sporting surprises. The target should still be 9th. However, if this run continues, preseason predictions will need to be revised.
2. LG Twins: Won 6, Lost 2.
The Twins set a franchise record of 4 straight wins to open the season last Tuesday and then followed it up by adding 2 more before meeting a rejuvenated Lotte Giants at the weekend.
In every sport, momentum is key and LG came into 2017 with plenty of that knowing they were probably the country’s second best team from All Star break before fatigue ended their play-off adventure.
They began by sweeping Nexen, who finished above them last season, and then putting Samsung to the sword in Jamsil. Oh Ji-hwan and Lee Hyeon-jeong have done most of the damage with the bat.
It is hard to escape the feeling that LG are more vulnerable to a dramatic slide if just a few key players get injured. Still, a great start for the Twins.
3. Kia Tigers: Won 6, lost 2.
On paper, the Tigers have enjoyed a very good start to the season, winning their 3 series to date. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to see the problems.
First, the positives. The starting pitchers have been really strong, collecting a league best 6 quality starts and a combined ERA under 2.00. Choi Hyeong-woo has been solid after his big money move from Samsung and the return of An Chi-hong and Kim Sun-bin from mandatory army duty improved their infield options immeasurably.
However, as is often the case, the bullpen is terrible. Pat Dean’s KBO welcome was to see his 7-0 lead dismantled in just one inning by Samsung. Other games, against SK and Hanwha Eagles, also brutally exposed the complete lack of quality. The bullpen ERA stands at 10.45.
The biggest worry is that established and, in some cases, decorated pitchers are struggling badly. Kia would be expecting to rely heavily on Ko Hyo-jun, Hong Geun-hee, Kim Gwang-su and Im Chang-yong this season. Im, the primary closer, already has a loss and 2 blown saves to his name. On Sunday, in a two score game, he wasn’t even allowed to see the game out.
4. Lotte Giants: Won 6, lost 2.
When Lotte lost on the opening night in rather bizarre circumstances against NC, their fans were completely justified in fearing another Masan disaster. But the Giants rallied impressively to take the series, a feat they failed to achieve against the Dinos at all last year.
The Lee Dae-ho effect has been predictably strong, with their returning hero smashing three home runs already. Jeon Jun-woo, missing for most of the past two seasons, has been one of the league’s standout players so far. The series victory over LG told us plenty about the character of this team and it was great to see the crowds back at Sajik.
Lotte are leading most of the key batting stats, as is often the case: batting average, home runs, on base and slugging percentages.
It still promises to be a tough season but Lotte have the best start they could possibly have hoped for.
5. Doosan Bears: Won 3, lost 5.
One of the standout moments of the first week was second inning pummeling Doosan, back-to-back champions, received at the hands of the Nexen Heroes on Sunday. The 10 runs conceded concluded a bizarre meltdown in which two of their stars from 2016, Dustin Nippert and Yoo Hee-kwan both suffered surprising defeats.
The reality is Doosan can have no complaints about where they currently sit and were, in many ways, indebted to Hanwha Eagles’ high error count and Nick Evans’ heroics for saving them from an early series loss.
The Nexen series really skewed the stats against them, with 50 of the 89 hits conceded coming last weekend.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Michael Bowden has yet to start this season and they’ve only played 8 games. They’ll relish the chance to hit against Kia’s woeful bullpen this week. The Bears haven’t suddenly become a bad side and it’ll take a very special team to wrestle the trophy off them.
6. Nexen Heroes: Won 3, lost 5.
What a difference a weekend makes! The Heroes headed to Jamsil on the back of 5 straight losses and a new manager still coming to terms with an unexpected promotion. Nexen have the players – in fact, they probably have more quality players than they have fans – and they really couldn’t have picked a better stage to remind us of that.
Yoon Suk-min and Seo Geun-chang both had weekends to remember but the real star is Lee Jung-hoo, son of the legendary Kia Tiger Lee Jeong-beom. In terms of making a grand entrance, Lee couldn’t have done much better. He hit 2 home runs against Doosan on Saturday and has a season OPS of .833.
Nexen’s bats are alive again and with so many quick players in the line up, extra base hits are never an issue.
7. NC Dinos: Won 3, Lost 7.
This has been a very unsatisfactory start to NC’s season, and perhaps they are suffering a little from the drubbing they received from Doosan last winter.
Eric Thames may have departed but there is plenty of quality even if a couple of their key performers are gradually slowing down with age. Three things seem to stand out the most when discussing NC:
a) Losing a series, anywhere, to Lotte.
b) Park Suk-min striking out in all 5 plate appearances against SK on Saturday.
c) Choi Jeong smashing 4 home runs in one game against them.
NC are still better than most teams in the league but the club might also be entering a state of decline. Since joining the KBO as the 9th team, NC haven’t had a bad season. Each season has been better than the one before. Have they run out of gas?
8. Hanwha Eagles: Won 3, Lost 5.
It wouldn’t have taken too much more for Hanwha to be sitting where the Kia Tigers are now. Maybe one less dropped catch, fewer runners left stranded on 3rd or a bullpen capable of seeing out a game. The problem is these problems are like a virus to Hanwha, and despite being considered as potential darkhorses every March for a playoff spot, defensive errors come back to haunt them time and time again.
Against Doosan, Hanwha had 7 recorded errors over 3 games and too often runners stealing second were allowed to advance further.
A bright spot has been Song Eun-beom rolling back the years and it a shame that he’s currently without a win after 2 excellent outings against Doosan and Kia. If Hanwha are to mount a credible playoff challenge, they’ll need the SK version of Song, not the Kia alternative.
9. SK Wyverns: Won 2, lost 6.
Like Nexen, the Wyverns went into the weekend on the back of 5 straight losses but they showed enough in defeat against the Tigers to suggest a win would shortly arrive. Good for them that NC proved to be very accommodating.
Choi Jeong’s heroics will dominate the opening stanza for SK but they’ve also been involved in a hefty trade already, sending 4 players to Kia in return for 2 catchers and 2 back up outfielders. Too early to tell just yet which team will have benefited most but the reaction in Gwangju to Noh Su-gwang’s departure tells you how highly rated he is.
10. Samsung Lions: Won 1, Lost 7.
Oh dear. Samsung are definitely on a downward curve now after dining at the top table for so long. It is worrying when a club finds itself on the front pages as regularly as Samsung have over the past 2 years. On the field, their foreign players have largely disappointed and the likes of Park Suk-min and Choi Hyeong-woo have not been replaced.
Samsung have been shut out 4 times in the last 5 games and against kt on Sunday, they had to wait until their 19th at bat before a man reached first base – 6 full innings of absolutely nothing. Defensive errrors against LG really flattened them but first and foremost, they need to start scoring runs.