Well, this is it. The KBO has gotten the sort of headline-grabbing season ending game it was craving. Friday night in Gwangju. Kia Tigers v Doosan Bears. The country’s most successful club verus the back-to-back reigning champions. Both, with massive fanbases.
It probably isn’t stretching things to suggest that whoever wins this game will win the pennant race and march straight through to the Korean Series. Neither side can afford to lose. Defeat will be fatal.
For Doosan, it’ll mean they’re back to 2.5 games behind Kia, have fewer catch up games and a harder run in. A loss would undo so much of their good work from early August. The Tigers, on the other hand, will have seen a big lead whittled down to less than a game. The head-to-record would be in Doosan’s favour and confidence completely eroded from the team.
Doosan, looking for 3 straight championships, would have all the momentum as the teams head down the home straight. Games are running out and the Tigers are in desperate need of a break.
Doosan have won 4 in a row and 7 from their last 9. This includes wins over the in-form Lotte Giants in Busan, and third-placed NC Dinos on Wednesday, when Kuk Hae-seong notched an RBI single in the 9th to help turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win. They can grind out tough wins on the road or thrash teams showing little mercy.
Kia were brought back down to earth after a sapping series loss by SK. Tuesday’s defeat was galling because it involved ace pitcher Yang Hyeon-jeong getting hammered by a combination of the Wyverns’ offense and his own team’s appalling defense. All in all, Kia are 7-9 this month.
Head to head
This is beautifully poised at 7 wins and a tie apiece. Given there has been very little to separate the teams this year, it would almost be fitting it they ended this all square (not that Doosan, in particular, would agree to that).
Their last meeting was on September 1st when Lee Myeong-gi and An Chi Hong hit home runs off Doosan starter Yoo Hee-gwon to register a 5-3 win. The previous night, Dustin Nippert was lit up by the Kia offense to the tune of 6 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings of baseball. Kia went on to win 9-4.
Before that, Doosan took a 2 game series in Jamsil, winning 4-1 and 2-1. Jang Won-jun started the former game, going 6 innings whilst tossing 96 pitches and allowing 1 run. The Doosan bullpen locked Kia down, with only one batter reaching base in the final three innings.
Jang Won-jun comes into this game on the back of an extra day’s rest. Jang started last Friday against SK in Jamsil but probably wants to forget about it as soon as possible. Doosan’s ace went 6.2 innings, giving up 5 earned runs off 9 hits and 4 walks. He was opposite Scott Diamond who pitched a complete game until the 8th inning. Jang has lost on his last 2 starts.
Hector’s last outing for Kia came on Saturday, against kt. He came very close to giving up a solo home run off his first pitch but settled well to record his 18 win of the season. At one point he looked on course for a compete game shutout but had to settle for 7.2 innings, 7 hits, 1 walk, 4 strike outs and 1 earned run. After a ridiculously good start to 2016, Hector has been rather inconsistent of late.
A line often used in baseball circles is it doesn’t matter who starts a game. It is all about who finishes it. There’s no doubt Jang v Hector is KBO A-list but it is very unlikely either pitcher won’t find trouble on Friday and both clubs will be relying heavily on their bullpens.
In this regard, Doosan have a distinct advantage over their hosts. In the second half of the season, the Bears lead the entire league when it comes to the bullpen. Their record of 18 wins, 3 losses, 23 holds and 15 saves comes with a 3.56 ERA.
The Tigers, meanwhile, come into this clash with a bullpen scrambling for 10 wins, 8 losses, 16 holds and 10 saves. Their ERA is 4.70. Doosan’s relief squad have allowed 76 earned runs. Kia’s is 103.
Doosan seem to be on a roll now and will have been encouraged by their comeback win in Masan as Kia dropped a series to the Wyverns. Their roster is remarkably settled, and there has hardly been any alterations to it. Basically, these are championship players who know how to win big games like this. Tigers fans will be hoping a bad week and the threat of losing their grip on top spot will rejuvenate them back into form. But their prayers will fall on deaf ears. Hector to be shelled early and Doosan to resist a late onslaught is how I see it going.
Doosan to win.
Will this be their last game of 2017 or is this a preview to the Korean Series? Lotte might have something to say abiut that. Nevertheless, what a Series it would be. Doosan Bears v Kia Tigers. An early Christmas present for the KBO.
Wunderground says highs of 28/82, and mostly sunny. A 10% chance of rain. Perfect day for baseball.