The play-off roadshow returns to Masan as Doosan Bears and NC Dinos look to put a foot firmly in the Korean Series with a win in Game 3. The best-of-5 series is delicately balanced at 1 win apiece after two gloriously high scoring games at a raucous Jamsil midweek.
NC, led by part-time cheerleader Eric Thames, hammered the champions 13-5 in a surprisingly gruesome postseason outing for Dustin Nippert. The Dinos were clinging onto a 6-5 lead in the 8th when their bats tore Doosan shreds with 2 outs to score 7.
Doosan responded with a 17-7 thumping on a wet Wednesday aided significantly by Choi Ju-hwan’s grand slam. It was the second slam of the Series and one of 8 (!!!) home runs on Wednesday alone. So much for Jamsil not being a hitter’s ballpark.
Here’s how our contributors think game 3 will go…..
As the series moves down to Changwon for games 3 and 4, it’s worth taking a look at what has transpired thus far. Game 1 saw Doosan ace Dustin Nippert start out well, but 4 runs in the 5th sealed his loss. On Wednesday we saw Doosan turn the tables on the Dinos when post-season bullpen veteran Jeff Manship was unable to hold back the Bears.
So where does this leave both teams as they come into game 3 on Friday? NC is playing their ace card by putting Eric Hacker on the mound and the Bears are going with Michael Bowden. Hacker seems to have had the better run of form, especially of late. Therefore, the safe money seems to be on the Dinos getting a home win on Friday. If this happens, we might see Doosan put in Nippert, or possibly even Korean ace Jang Won Joon, on short rest to secure a game 4 win.
We could, therefore, see the series return to Jamsil in Seoul for an epic game 5. Here we would most likely see a Jang vs Manship match-up. Although Jeff Manship has been used as a reliever so far in the series, it is hard to see who else the Dinos can turn to after using Hacker. If this is the case, it is hard to say who will win. The Dinos have come a long way, and are unlikely to go down quietly, but perhaps the longer rest will finally pay off for the Bears.
Last season, Doosan Bears clinched their 5th Korean baseball championship in Game 4 in Masan. They have the opportunity to reach the Series with a win at the same stage in 2017. The difference, though, is NC look far more relaxed and competitive than they did 12 months ago. They managed just 2 runs in 36 innings back then. This week, they collected 20 already.
Michael Bowden is the lastest well-rested (rusty?) Doosan pitcher to start. He can’t do any worse than Dustin Nippert (5.1IP, 5 earned runs, 8 hits, 8k) or Jang Won-jun (5.1IP, 5 earned runs, 10 hits, 1K); the problem is he’s up against a playoff specialist in Eric Hacker. Doosan really need the 2016 Bowden more than ever before. The RHP went 18-7 with a 3.80ERA and 4.66 WAR in his KBO debut season.
Hacker arrives at this point as one of the playoff’s most influential players. The American pitched twice in the hostile Sajik atmosphere, for a total of 13.1 innings, 1 earned run, 12 hits and 14 strike outs. Crucially, he only allowed 5 free passes (one was a HBP) denying Lotte too many cheap runners on base.
Na Seong-beom is already one of the league’s most feared batters, but, unlike, say, Choi Jeong (SK), Son A-seop and Lee Dae-ho (Lotte), Na has looked even better in October. The RF collected his 3rd home run of the post season on Wednesday. Xavier Scruggs is also on 3 (with a slam to boot) so finding dangermen in this line up is not difficult. Doosan, meanwhile, can look to powerful leftie Kim Jae-hwan for inspiration. The outfielder knocked over 2 home runs in Game 2 for a total of 7RBIS.
Both teams are struggling badly in the bullpen so this series looks very much like a 5-gamer. Hacker to win on Friday before Doosan level it once again. Expect the run rate to drop now but this has been a lot of fun already. Oh, and Doosan really need to cut back on the errors.
Written off earlier in the season by many fans in the KBO, Michael Bowden has proven throughout September that on his day he can still be one of the best pitchers in the KBO. During his 5 games since the start of September, Bowden has recorded 2 quality starts for the Bears and has not given up more than 3 runs in any of his starts during that time. While there are several question marks about Doosan’s defensive sharpness over the last two games, particularly at shortstop, their offense in games 1 and 2 has left no question about the threat they can represent. Eric Hacker of the NC Dinos will need to continue his strong pitching that saw him hold the Lotte Giants to 1 earned run across 13 1/3 innings in the playoff semi-final series if NC are to have any chance of advancing to the Korea Series for the second consecutive year.
In a head-to-head comparison the two starters have similar stats with Bowden recording a no decision with a 3.00 ERA across 6 innings in his only start against NC this season, compared to Hacker’s 1-1 split record with a 2.77 ERA against the Bears across 13 innings.
There are two key differences that may come into effect in Masan and will likely dictate which team has the advantage when the bullpens take the mound. The first of these factors is home runs. Over the first two games in Jamsil, the Dinos and Bears hit 10 bombs between them, and in the smaller dimensioned Masan Stadium, the two teams will likely be aiming to crush a few more. Out of the two starting pitchers, Hacker has given up 14 home runs compared to Bowden’s 15 in 9 fewer starts.
The second factor in this game will be the two starting pitchers’ favoured hitting matchups. While Eric Hacker fares similarly against left and right handed hitters (0.243/0.312 vs lefties AVG/SLG, 0.271/0.406 vs righties), Michael Bowden has struggled against lefties this season, and has given up far more extra base hits when matching up against right handed hitters than his Dinos counterpart. (0.324/0.456 vs lefties AVG/SLG, 0.225/0.436 vs righties) With Park MinWoo, Kim JunWan, and Na SeongBeom all strong lefties at the top of the Dinos’ batting order, there is potential for NC to drive in a couple of early runs should Mo ChangMin or Xavier Scruggs continue to make solid contact.
Prediction: With both bullpens showing the signs that the pressure of the playoffs is getting to them, the Bears and Dinos will be looking to their starters to go as deep into the game as they can. With a fairly pronounced disadvantage against the Dinos lineup, Bowden will likely drop a couple of early runs and exit the game in the 6th inning, where a nervous bullpen will allow the Dinos to extend their lead to 4. Hacker will likely have to work himself out of a jam once in the game. If he can do it, then it should be smooth sailing for the Dinos to close out the win. If he struggles, then with Jeff Manship unavailable to pitch from the bullpen this game due to KBO rules regarding foreign players, the Dinos will be hard pressed to hold back the Doosan offense. I’m predicting Hacker to continue his history of pitching well in the playoffs and earn the win for NC by 4 runs.