1. A week of mixed emotions
I love baseball. I only got into the sport when I moved to Korea in 2009. Before then, my knowledge of the game was virtually non-existent.
But last week’s LG v Lotte series in Busan tested the patience a little. Not so much in baseball, but in the KBO. Two 12 inning games; the first (Tuesday) won because of an error in centre field. LG had raced into a 10-5 lead at the top of 10th but managed to hand back all those runs without even recording a single out. Somehow, they kept Lotte off the scoreboard again until a routine drive to centre field went through An Ik-hun’s glove allowing Lee Woo-min to stroll home from third. There were 34 hits and 16 walks in the game.
On Wednesday, 6 recorded errors helped bring a 9-9 game to an unsatisfactory conclusion in the 12th. Both teams managed to score a single run in the final inning but not enough to win. There is something wrong about sitting through all that baseball and not seeing a winner at the end.
Then, on Friday, I went to Jamsil to see Kia Tigers versus LG Twins. The stadium was close to full capacity. It was a superb game, which had a bit of everything; a couple of errors, good pitching (at times), home runs, controversy and the sight of Roger Bernadina batting in the 9th needing a double to complete his first KBO cycle. He didn’t succeed, much to the disappointment of the boisterous and jubilant away side.
However, with Brian and I that night was a friend from the US. He likes baseball but absolutely hated the game. And I mean…..HATED. Not just what happened on the field, but the noise and cheering in the stands. “Too distracting” was one of the more regular observations. To many others, the atmosphere was electric but there’s no doubt the constant banging of thundersticks isn’t for every one. We all have some grievances with the game in Korea but I think most of us can agree it is almost always a good day out. As Brian mentioned on the podcast, it was the first time he had witnessed such displeasure at a KBO game. I guess it isn’t for every one.
2. How good were Kia Tigers last week?
After a series whitewash in Masan the previous week, the Tigers lost hold of top spot to NC Dinos and questions were inevitably asked about whether they were starting to slow down. The response was emphatic. 6 wins from 6 and a barely believable 79 runs scored (23 conceded). This helped push Kia ahead of the rest in team batting average (.304) and on-base percentage (.374) and just behind SK Wyverns in slugging (0.463).
The last time Kia Tigers were the best offensive team in the league was in 1988, 29 years ago as Haitai Tigers. Batting coach Park Heung-sik must take a lot of credit. In 2015, the team had the league’s worst batting average (.251). Last season it was .286. Even as champions in 2009, the Tigers relied heavily on two players, Kim Sang-hyun and Choi Hee-seop, who combined to record a third of the team’s RBIS.
A big midweek test awaits in Incheon.
3. Are Doosan Bears in decline?
The last time the Doosan Bears wrapped up a winning series was on Sunday, June 18th at home, against the NC Dinos. Since then, they’ve come out second best to Kia Tigers, Lotte Giants, SK Wyverns and Hanwha Eagles. Sunday’s rained out game potentially saved them from a demoralizing sweep by the average Eagles.
The result of this means the Bears are now down in 5th spot with a .500 average. It is only cos of LG Twins’ atrocious form that keeps Doosan in the playoff positions but they now have Lotte Giants (1 game back) breathing down their neck.
Why are they performing so badly? It seems to be a variety of reasons but as pointed out many times before, they don’t have their Fantastic Four (Dustin Nippert, Daniel Bowden, Jang Won-jun and Yoo Hee-gwon) to rely on now.
Yoo allowed 7 runs in 6 innings versus Hanwha on Friday but it was the bullpen that eventually lost them the game. Nippert, their ace in 2016, has dropped his last three starts. Only Jang recorded a win last week and Bowden is still on 6.2 innings pitched for 2017. However, the American is due to start versus kt wizz on Tuesday.
The club also has more sinister allegations hanging over it and more information is expected this week.
4. What do you do when you lead 19-0?
On Thursday, we witnessed one of the biggest hammerings of the season as Kia Tigers dismantled the Samsung Lions in Gwangju. The home team raced into a 19-0 lead and eventually closed out a 22-1 win.
An argument made was that the Tigers should have taken off all their best players and not kept their foot on the throat of the Lions. It is bush league baseball, some said. Another argument was the manager should take off his better players instead of risking injury in a game that is well and truly won.
The latter point may be worth considering and Kim Ki-tae, the Tigers manager, removed his two most injury prone players, Lee Beom-ho and Kim Ju-chan, in the 6th inning. But, let’s return to the first point. These players are all professional. They have a job to do, and fans go to games to see the best players. They wanna see strike outs, home runs and big plays from their favorite players. Supporters don’t spend their money to see all the top guys pulled in the 4th just because the opposition is absolutely terrible.
Samsung are also a professional outfit. You’ve gotta accept the bad days to appreciate the good days. Some of these players are league winners. No doubt they, too, dished out big beatings on other teams when they dominated the league. If this was an exhibition game, you could understand it if the runaway team starting removing their better players. Or if it was an English football cup match between pros and amateurs. But this is professional baseball. The manager of the winning team shouldn’t be concerned about the opposition’s damaged ego.
5. The All-Star Game is taking shape.
The All-Star line ups were announced on Monday and it is, as expected, largely a Kia Tigers versus Doosan Bears battle. We could waffle on with a bunch of negative comments but let’s look at some of the positive news. Nexen Heroes’ Lee Jong-hoo is set to become the youngest ever All-Star at the age of 18 years and 10 months. He is one of 11 first time All-Stars. Samsung Lions’ legendary slugger Lee Seung-yeop will play in this 11th, and more than likely final, All-Star at his home ballpark in Daegu. At 40 years and 10 moths, he’ll also be the oldest player to take part.
Voting was decided by fan and player votes, and because of this, some intriguing observations can be made. Kia Tigers’ second baseman An Chi-hong won approximately 130,000 more fan votes than Nexen’s Seo Geun-chang. But Seo comfortably collected more votes from his fellow players. Is An in because he’s a better player this year or Kia are more popular than Nexen? On the other side, Lotte Giants’ Son A-seop collected around 150,000 more votes than Doosan’s Kim Jae-hwan, but both Kim and SK’s Han Dong-min picked up more players votes.
Well have more on All-Star in a later podcast.