Welcome to a brief retrospect on last weekend’s action, and a look ahead at the games to come as the KBO enters the final two weeks of the 2017 season. Here’s how the standings look after this past weekend:
Statistics and standings from the KBO and myKBO.
After earning two wins against the kt wiz in Gwangju, the KIA Tigers maintain a 3.5 game lead over a Doosan Bears side that put 30 runs past the Samsung Lions across two days in a convincing sweep. Trailing behind the leaders in third are the NC Dinos who continue their slide down the rankings after a weekend that saw them pick up their only win of the week in a split series against seventh place Nexen Heroes. After another strong week that saw them pick up four wins including a weekend sweep over fifth place SK Wyverns, the Lotte Giants managed to close the gap on the NC Dinos to half a game, and almost finish cementing their first post season appearance in 5 years.
While the top four teams appear to have mostly stabilised, the race for fifth is heating up with SK, LG, and Nexen all in contention for the wildcard spot. After getting swept in Sajik, the gap between the fifth place SK Wyverns, and the seventh place Nexen Heroes is now 2.5 games. The out of form LG Twins and Nexen Heroes were unable to capitalise on this form however and split their weekend series against Hanwha, and NC respectively as both teams finished the week with two wins and four losses to their names.
Now that the regularly scheduled games of the 2017 season have drawn to a close, the league now looks towards the playoffs due to begin in early October. The three teams already mathematically eliminated from wild card contention, Hanwha, Samsung, and kt have over the last two weeks made it their mission to make life as difficult as possible for the top teams in their pushes for the playoffs.
From Tuesday, 19 September the KBO will enter the make up stage of the season. This time frame presents a unique opportunity for teams to take advantage of a much more spread out, and irregular playing schedule and narrow their starting rotations to enhance their chances at a playoff push.
SK Wyverns vs KIA Tigers (18:30: MBC Sports+)
After a disastrous end to an otherwise promising week, the SK Wyverns travel to Gwangju to play a 2 game make up series against the KIA Tigers. The Tigers will be without their 3-hole hitter for the series after Roger Bernadina pulled his hamstring rounding third in the fourth inning against the kt wiz last Sunday. Bernadina’s injury doesn’t appear to be too severe and he is expected to return as early as next week, but in the absence of both Roger Bernadina, and Lee MyeongGi, the Tigers will now turn to fellow lefty, Kim HoRyeong to fill the gap in their batting order, and anchor the Tigers outfield in their stead.
This will come as a welcome relief to the Wyvern’s pitching staff as Tuesday’s starter, Park JongHoon has his worst team ERA record versus KIA this season: 8.71 across his previous two outings against the Tigers – both in Gwangju. Despite his poor record against KIA this season, the 26-year-old submariner has looked impressive over his last few outings and hasn’t recorded a loss in 5 games, including two no decisions against second place Doosan Bears, and wins against the Hanwha Eagles, and kt wiz.
Yang HyeonJong on the other hand boasts an impressive 2.51 ERA and 26 strikeouts against the power-hitting Wyverns lineup this season. In his 4 starts against SK this season, Yang has picked up wins in both of his starts in Gwangju, and recorded no decisions in his other 2 games in Munhak. There could be some cause for concern however, as Yang’s last outing on 13 September saw him post a 6.00 ERA in Incheon, including 2 of the Wyvern’s 3 home runs against him this season.
With the Tigers’ rookie pitcher Lee MinWoo likely to take the mound on Wednesday against Scott Diamond, who pitched 7 perfect innings in a complete game shutout of the Doosan Bears last Thursday, the KIA Tigers will need to continue their strong momentum from their weekend win against kt to push for the magic 7 that will see them clinch the pennant. With a tenuous 1.5 game cushion in the standings, and only 5 games remaining compared to 12 for the sixth place wildcard hopefuls, the LG Twins, every game is now crucial for the SK Wyverns.
Tuesday, 19 Sept: A strong outing for Yang HyeonJong, and your standard dose of bullpen drama will lead to a back and forth game, but Park JongHoon’s inability to go past 6 innings will see a haggard SK bullpen concede the win to Yang in yet another no-decision for Park.
Wednesday, 20 Sept: Assuming the aforementioned pitchers start, Diamond will be tested, and will continue his strong turn of form across his last two outings that saw him shut out Doosan, and concede just 1 run over 8 0/3 innings against Nexen to a monstrous Michael Choice home run. The lack of scouting information available for Lee MinWoo will allow him to put up 4 or 5 strong innings against the Wyverns, but he will eventually concede a poor run of hits and force Kim KiTae to call on the bullpen sometime around the middle of the sixth inning. Diamond will retire sometime in the seventh and SK will extend their lead to see out the win and split the series.
Doosan Bears vs Lotte Giants (18:30: SBS Sports, SPOTV)
After bouncing back from a shutout loss to SK on Friday, the Doosan Bears offense put up 30 runs across two games in Daegu to lay waste to the Samsung Lions in one of the most one-sided series of the season. With the momentum of that performance behind them, the Bears now travel to Sajik where they will be welcomed by an equally confident Lotte Giants side that handily swept the SK Wyverns over the weekend.
On pure head to head stats, this looks to be a strong pitching contest with Lotte’s Kim WonJoong and Doosan’s Yu HuiKwan both boasting an ERA of 3.00 or less against the other team. Recent form, however, tells a different story and indicates a strong advantage for the visiting Bears as Kim has failed to complete a start in his last two outings, most recently posting a 94.50 ERA when he conceded 7 runs in the first inning against the KIA Tigers. There will be questions asked of Kim WonJoong’s mettle coming into this game that sees Lotte trailing Doosan’s Wednesday opponents, the third place NC Dinos by half a game at the offset of the make up schedule.
Yu HuiKwan, on the other hand, has managed to maintain a steady run of form and has not failed to pitch less than 6 innings in his last 4 starts. The 31 year old soft tosser has started three times against the Giants this season, including two starts in Sajik where he went 1-1. While Yu HuiKwan has only conceded 17 hits and 7 runs across his three starts against Lotte, it’s important to note that all 7 of those runs came in his most recent outing in Sajik.
The main weakness of the Bears, that the Giants will be aiming to exploit on Tuesday, is the bullpen. Across the last week, Doosan’s relievers conceded 17 runs, compared to Lotte’s 5. As he chases win number 10 for a fifth consecutive season, Yu HuiKwan will be looking to his offense to do some early damage against Kim, and deny the opportunity for Son SeungLak, who has yet to record a loss against the Bears this season, to take the mound and attempt to earn save number 36 of the season.
Tuesday, 19 Sept: With Lotte hungry to notch a win that will see them in fourth by virtue of mathematics alone, and Doosan desperate to notch a win that will keep their hopes of snatching the pennant from the KIA Tigers alive, both batting orders will come out of the gate swinging for the fences. Fortunately for Lotte, the fences in Sajik are ridiculously tall and will mitigate some of the damage the Bears will inflict in the first three innings. Expect Kim WonJoong to retire around the middle, or end of the fifth inning after a serviceable, but not a strong outing. An eighth inning rally, and a Doosan bullpen meltdown will allow Lotte to take the lead, where a combination of Bae JangHo, Jo JeongHun and Son SeungLak will stifle the Bears offense and give Lotte their fourth consecutive win.
Wednesday, 20 Sept: While most teams would be disadvantaged by having 3 of their make up games scheduled in three different southern cities, the Bears have been blessed with kind schedule that allows them to complete all three road games in the space of 4 days. On Wednesday, Michael Bowden will likely take the mound in the second of these games against the NC Dinos. After Eric Hacker was ruled out of action with a knee injury two weeks ago, NC have struggled in their efforts to find a fifth starter to fill out their rotation, giving Choi GeumGang a cameo in the starting rotation last week against the Samsung Lions where he put in a serviceable outing, letting in 5 runs across 4 1/3 innings. Given the extra rest day on Tuesday, it is possible that the Dinos may rest Choi and let Jang HyeonSik start against the Bears on Wednesday. Despite woes on the mound, the Dinos offense remain a valid threat, and have managed to put more than 10 runs on the board in three of their games last week. After failing to record a win in his last 5 outings, Doosan’s Michael Bowden will need to produce a solid outing against NC’s lineup if there is to be any hope for Doosan to keep their pennant hopes alive. NC will hammer Bowden early and try to put some early runs on the board, while Doosan will return the favour to whomever starts out of Choi and Jang. Expect to see the Dinos bullpen appear before the Bears’, but the extra rest day will prove invaluable as the Dinos will deny any insurance runs and bully out a win against the Doosan bullpen, quite possibly in extra innings.
kt wiz vs LG Twins (18:30: KBS N Sports, SKY Sports)
While some inconsistencies or doubts can be found in the recent form of all of the pitchers previously mentioned, one who’s recent form could silence anybody is LG Twins’ David Huff. After an injury kept him sidelined for the start of the season, the Twins’ ace pitcher has made up for lost time and not recorded a loss since his last appearance against the KIA Tigers at the start of July. On the back of recent performances that saw him shut out the Lotte Giants, and Nexen Heroes, for 7 innings apiece, Huff will aim to put out another dominant performance and earn his second win of the season against the kt wiz.
After switching from the bullpen to the starting rotation for most of the season, kt’s young pitcher Ryu HeeWoon has recorded 4 consecutive starts for the wiz in recent weeks, yet he has failed to make it past the fifth inning in each of these outings. Combine that with failing to record a win since July, and the Twins will be relishing the opportunity to do some early damage and break out of the slump that saw them record just two wins last week.
Following the acquisitions of Mel Rojas Jr. and Yun SeokMin, the wiz offense has found a solid footing in recent weeks and recorded wins against every team pushing for the playoff spots. Only the KIA Tigers have avoided dropping a game against kt over the past weekend when a moment of manegerial insanity saw Donn Roach make an early exit in the top of the seventh inning with only 74 pitches, and 2 earned runs against his name. In contrast to kt’s flourishing batting order, the LG Twins lineup has been stagnating for a while and barring the odd flashes of brilliance, the Twins have struggled in recent weeks to find any semblance of offensive consistency.
Tuesday, 19 Sept: Should the wiz offense be able to do some damage then the offensive inconsistency of LG could give them a slight edge in this game. However, the two most consistent players in either lineup sit on opposite ends of the pitching spectrum. Ryu HeeWoon has yet to find his comfort zone and put out a quality start since 22 July, while David Huff appears to be nigh untouchable right now. LG will put some early runs on the board, and tack on a couple of insurance runs after the kt bullpen are called in to replace Ryu in the fifth inning. The wiz offense will simply not be able to keep pace with David Huff who will likely go deep into the sixth inning for the fourth game in a row.
Wednesday, 20 Sept: With a relatively easy game on paper behind them on Tuesday, LG will likely go into Wednesday trailing their wildcard rivals, the SK Wyverns by half a game. The LG Twins will be desperate to pick up a win in Daejeon against the Eagles’ likely starter, Carlos Villanueva. Much like the kt wiz, Hanwha have enjoyed a recent turn of success including splitting a series against LG in Jamsil this past weekend. Having yet to face the Twins, Villanueva will be hoping to overturn a slow start to September that has seen him give up 14 runs across both of his starts this month. He will likely be met in a close matchup by Ryu JeGuk, whom is also suffering from a poor run of starts. Expect this to go to the bullpens quite early and score well for both teams. Hanwha will have the edge, but for lack of a stable closer LG should be able to tack some late runs on and edge out a win in the eighth inning.
Stats from the KBO. Fixtures and standings from myKBO. Title image from WooriWebzine.
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