1. LG Twins: Won 5, lost 1.
One of two 5-win teams, we just about place LG over Kia because of the teams they beat this week. NC were, arguably, the hottest team in Korean baseball until they were mauled on Wednesday. Following that, the Twins swept their flatmates in very convincing fashion at a sun-kissed Jamsil Stadium. That’s gotta be sweet!
The pitching staff are doing a really good job in 2017 and that is the biggest contributing factor to their lofty league position. Last week, LG conceded 15 runs in 6 games. Ryu Jae-gook picked up Tuesday’s loss because he gave up a two run jack to Xavier Scruggs. That’s how tight they are. 4 of the 6 games could have either way but this is a team bursting with confidence right now.
They did do their best to throw Saturday’s game with Doosan so even the best bullpen team can be prone to mishaps along the way. Another bright spot this season has been the form of 24-year-old starting pitcher Im Chan-kyu. Im collected back-to-back wins after tossing 7 shutout innings against the all-conquering Dinos on Wednesday. He hasn’t conceded a run in over 15 innings of baseball.
2. Kia Tigers: Won 5, lost 1.
Another excellent week for the Tigers who became the first team to reach the 20-win milestone. The last time that happened, 20 years ago as the Haitai Tigers, the Gwangju club went on to win the championship. In fact, every time they hit 20 first, they’ve been crowned KBO champions. Last week they won five games on the road and will feel very good heading home to face kt.
A huge reason for this good run is the form of Yang Hyun-jeong and Hector Noesi. Yang was joint recipient of the April MVP award and again demonstrated his immense value to the Tigers on Wednesday. The lefty pitched 7 innings of no run baseball. No walks, either, which is becoming a familiar trend this season.
Yang is leading the league for ERA and WAR, and has a WHIP of just 1.11. He’s striking out more players but it is his base on ball stats that are most eye catching. Just 3 free passes handed out all season, at a rate of 0.65 per 9 innings. Last season his BB/9 was 3.46. His K/BB ratio is an extraordinary 12.67. The management is also using him more wisely, pulling him when he reaches the 100 pitch mark. Gone are the days of the 138 pitch complete game that saw him knackered by August.
3. Hanwha Eagles. Won 4, lost 2.
Back-to-back winning series for the Eagles who probably haven’t found themselves in such a lofty position with our rankings all season. And might not again.
In midweek they went to Incheon and surprisingly took down the Wyverns, stealing Tuesday’s game (6-5) with 3 late scores and Wednesday’s game (9-8) with a solo home run in the 10th by Heo Do-hwan. They were made to work really hard for that win after blowing an early 6-0 lead and then giving up a tying run in the 9th. Incidentally, it was Heo’s first homer of the season and you could see what it meant to him.
kt wizz were then swathed away on Friday and Saturday to complete a good week. Although Sunday’s 10-0 loss will set off alarm bells. After a promising start to the season, Song Eun-beom has reverted back to his Kia version. He’s now 0-3 with a big ERA. In his last 2 starts, Song has only managed to toss 9.2 innings with 11 runs conceded.
4. NC Dinos. Won 3, lost 3.
A sign of how many teams struggled this week with NC’s grand total of 3 wins good enough for 4th spot. They just about held on to 2nd place in the league and reached the 20-win milestone against Samsung on Sunday.
But it wasn’t a particularly inspiring week, dropping a series in Jamsil which included a 13-0 hammering and then losing to the Lions, also very heavily, on Saturday. Errors did account for about 75% of Samsung’s total though.
The Dinos boast the best 3 foreigners in the league according to group ERA. Eric Hacker collected his third win of the season on Children’s Day, pitching 8 solid innings with 2 earned runs. They won Tuesday’s game against LG (2-1) on the back of the two run homer from Xavier Scruggs. Whatever foreign scouting is done in Masan, is generally pretty good.
5. SK Wyverns. Won 2, lost 3, tied 1.
The Wyverns lost a bit of ground on LG and KIA this week after inexplicably losing a home series to the Hanwha Eagles. Both loses to the Eagles came late in the game, when they either threw away a good lead (Tues) or made a dramatic comeback only to lose again (Wednesday).
It seems fitting that their weekend series with Nexen Heroes ended at a win each. Even in a slump, the Wyverns can rely on some magic and Kim Dong-yeop provided that on Sunday, blasting a 3 run homer to left field to tie the game and send it to extra innings. Both teams had numerous chances to win it but 6-6 it stayed.
The big news for SK was the decision to release Danny Worth and replace him with the Canadian Jamie Romak. Romak hit 84 home runs in 5 AAA seasons. He also has 39 plate appearances in MLB and last season was in Japan.
6. Nexen Heroes: Won 2, lost 3, tied 1.
Midway through last week, the Heroes announced that pitcher Sean O’Sullivan was going home after only 3 games (2 losses) and a grizzly ERA of over 15. He has been replaced by Jake Brigham, formerly of the Atlanta Braves and Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Brigham’s new club are located at the Gocheok Dome and it’ll be interesting to see how he finds playing in a stadium where his own fans are continually outnumbered by the opposition’s. Gocheok isn’t universally loved in Korea, and I can understand many of the criticisms, especially those relating to obstructed views of some parts of the field.
The biggest worry has to be the continued problem with getting people onboard the Nexen bandwagon. A capital city club with a new stadium punching well above its weight recently. They look ideal for new baseball fans and recently a couple of their superstars have made it to America. When hammering Kia 8-1 on Thursday, there was something very odd about seeing a stadium only 25% full by the end. The majority of the fans had left because their team, the visitors, we’re losing.
7. Doosan Bears: Won 2, lost 4.
Swept at home by LG probably represents the low point of the season so far for the defending champions. There are still over 100 games left but it does feel like Doosan have reached the point where a really hard kick up the ass is needed. This was the first time they’ve been whitewashed by LG for 8 years.
Saturday’s 7-5 loss to LG was partially the result of the classic KBO meltdown inning. Every team has one of these every couple of weeks. Lotte suffered one against Doosan recently, as did Nexen against SK. The sort of inning were the opposition don’t have to do much more than stand there holding a bat; runs are just gift wrapped by wayward pitchers.
A 1-1 game was broken in the 4th when Doosan start Ham Duck-Ju allowed 3 hits and 5 walks to score 5 runs. Two of the walks were back-to-back dead balls. 42 pitches in all, with 2 outs recorded. Ham was replaced by Park Chin-gook who walked in another runner before closing out the inning. Doosan rallied well but the game, and the series, lost in one dreadful inning.
8. Lotte Giants. Won 2, lost 4.
A weird week for the Giants who saw off kt 2-1 in midweek but then got swept at home by the Tigers. The Kia series could easily have gone the other way having pushed the leaders to 10 innings and Friday and then became the first team to really get at Hector on Sunday.
But the table shows 3 straight losses and Lotte will need to bounce back this week to stay on the heels of the leaders. The weekend series was seen as the Lee Dae-ho v Choi Hyeong-woo match up: and Lee just came out on top with a stellar performance on Sunday (4/5, 1 homer and 2 rbis).
But he and the rest of the team were badly let down by the pen, giving up 3 runs in the 8th in a game Lotte never looked like losing. Familiar story in Busan.
9. kt wizz. Won 2, lost 4.
kt continue to tumble down the table, as expected, but they are just about winning enough games per week to build a healthy gap between themselves and Samsung in 10th. Even after a stunning opening week, the target would have been 9th and a month into the season, that objective shouldn’t change.
If nothing else, kt can be genuinely excited about Gwangju-born, right handed pitcher Ko Yong-pyo. Ko has won back to back games and is sitting on a 3-3 record for 2017. A quick glance at some of his stats suggests he might be fairing a bit better if he was located elsewhere.
For the past two seasons, Ko has largely been used in the pen and last season went 2-4 in 55 games. On Sunday, he pitched 6 shootout innings against Hanwha (80 pitches), allowing 3 hits and 1 walk whilst striking out 9 batters. Last week, he pitched a complete game shut out. Ko is joint 5th for strikeouts in the league with a WHIP of just 1.08. He has a bright future.
10. Samsung Lions. Won 2, lost 4.
I genuinely thought the NC series was there for the taking when both clubs announced that Woo Gyu-min and Choi Keum-gang were the starting pitchers for Sunday. Samsung had battered an error ridden Dinos on Saturday (12 runs conceded, only 3 earned) and this had set them up nicely for a grand weekend finale.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Samsung started badly, bounced back momentarily and just after Woo’so night was done, the wheels really came off.
They started the week with a win (tying up a 6-3 game in the 9th) and a walk off solo home run from Darin Ruf ended the contest. After an okay start to 2017, Zach Petrick is beginning to struggle. Petrick is now 1-4 from 7 games after Friday’s loss. The 7 earned runs represents his toughtest outing so far.