On episode 21 of Grand Slam KBO, it was put to Yonhap’s Jeeho Yoo that the 2017 season is much more exciting than we could have imagined. Korea was, don’t forget, rebounding from a miserable WBC when Israel and the Netherlands stormed the Gocheok Dome and national team suffered an early, embarrassing exit.
Six months later, we have a gripping race for not just the playoff spots, but also first place. Jeeho claimed the regular has been “interesting” – few would argue. An understatement, perhaps, because we really had no idea how players and fans would react to the horrifying WBC experience.
Even a month ago, the Tigers were locked down in first according to many observers. NC Dinos, then their closest challengers, were most people’s favourites to take the championship outright. Lotte Giants outsiders looking in and LG Twins would provide Doosan Bears with stiff competition for third spot.
As we head into the final week of August, Doosan have roared up the table to within touching distance of the faltering Tigers. Doosan are 18-5-1 in August, a .750 winning percentage. They won 5 and tied 1 last week, coming from behind in every game. Some luck was involved, such as LG giftwrapping them the game on Saturday with this outrageous but extremely comical error. But for the most part, they slowly picked apart their opponents before pouncing late to win.
And now we get the series we’ve been waiting for. Gwangju will host Kia v Doosan on Wednesday and Thursday this week. There’s no guarantee the Tigers will enter the field top of the table, such has been their epic collapse in the last 4 weeks. The Tigers are 7-11 this month, with 6 rain outs. Three of those 7 wins have come against the Dinos. Last week they batted .280 and had a team ERA of 5.44. Trouble can be found everywhere.
Meanwhile, it isn’t only Gwangju where a titanic battle is taking place. Across the south coast, Lotte Giants will host NC Dinos, also midweek. Who would have guessed Lotte would be the team carrying all the momentum? 4 games separate these two, a tremendous turn around in form from 2016 when NC completely dominated their neighbours. Lotte are 17-7 this month, and 10-2 since the middle of the month. The Dinos are 11-13 in August.
As for the head to heads, Lotte and NC have split their 14 games down the middle. Doosan are 7-5-1 on the Tigers.
Of course, the fixtures have also worked out beautifully in that Doosan will meet Lotte this Tuesday and Wednesday in Jamsil. Brooks Raley (9-7, 3.84 and 1-1 against Doosan) v Jang Won-jun (11-7, 3.09 and 1-1 against Lotte). Last week, Lotte batted .335 and had an OPS of .953. Their 13 home runs were also a league best. And their pitching was good, too.
Kia warm up for Doosan with a trip to Daegu and Nexen hold onto their most slender of leads over SK in Seoul. Here are the games this week and Tuesday’s starters. Hopefully the weather is kind cos this is one hell of a week in the 2017 season.