On Wednesday, two of the biggest and most successful clubs in KBO history will face off in the Korean Series for the very first time.
Gwangju-based KIA Tigers, vying for an 11th KBO title and first in 8 years, finished top of the regular season standings with a record of 87-56-1. They’ve sat idle for 3 weeks, patiently waiting for their day in the spotlight.
They take on the Seoul-based Doosan Bears, back-to-back champions, a powerhouse in Korean baseball. The Bears looked out of the pennant race in July but a stirring run of form from the All Star break not only saw them close the gap on runaway leaders Kia, but momentarily overtake them. They eventually settled for second (85-57-3).
Since then, the Bears eliminated NC Dinos is 4 surprisingly high-scoring games, including a post-season record of 8 home runs in Jamsil during Game 2. After going down 13-5 in the opener, Doosan rallied to hammer 45 runs past the beleaguered Dinos, thus ending NC’s championship campaign for the second consecutive seasons.
Offensively, Doosan were brilliant but they committed a host of fielding errors, especially in the first two games, and each member of the ‘Fantastic Four (Dustin Nippert, Jang Won-jun, Michael Bowden and Yoo Hee-gwon) struggled against NC’s renowned hitters. Nevertheless, they advanced and in style.
The resplendent Gwangju Kia Champions Field will host its first ever Korean Series on Wednesday. Game 2 will also be on Tigers home turf before the show moves to Jamsil Baseball Stadium in western Seoul for Games 3, 4 and 5 from Saturday through to Monday. We’ll be back in Gwangju for Games 6 and 7 next week, if need be.
Many thanks to those who have contributed to this article and to the site and podcast throughout 2017. We’re not done yet, however. Enjoy the Series and good luck to both clubs (especially Kia).
Who will win and why?
The whole season has come down to this. Korean Series. The 2-time defending champions against the early season juggernaut that dug in late to stop their pennant chase vanishing. Two of the old guard. They may not be OB and Haitai anymore, but the Bears and Tigers are pillars of KBO history and only one will be crowned, while the other will see a season of passion and grit grind to a halt with nothing to show for it.
Arguments can be made for either team here. Doosan has scored double digits in their last 3 games on the way past NC, who had JUST reminded us against SK and Lotte that they were a legitimate baseball team in this league, something to be reckoned with…. and it’s gone. The south coast will sit quiet because Doosan responded to a game one loss by outright trumping the blue and gold offensively.
Kia, on the other hand, have been sitting idle for 3 weeks. Preparing. Watching. Scouting. I have a sneaking suspicion based on how the KBO postseason is set up and how the year played out, that Kim Ki-tae and company weren’t wasting much time on scouting SK Wyverns or Lotte Giants. They probably weren’t even giving NC much thought until the game one win. It is my belief that the reds have spent the lion share of the last 3 weeks preparing for Seoul’s Doosan Bears.
The rest vs rust question is definitely there after 3 weeks, which is just an added layer of uncertainty, but at the end of the day, this series will be a battle. I have it going 6 games, and I have the trophy going back to Gwangju for the winter under the eye of the newly crowned 11 time Korean Series champion Kia Tigers.
The x-factor in this series will be starting pitching. With the exception of HamDuck, both teams have very hittable bullpens. These two teams were the strongest offensive teams in the league all season long. If a starter gets hurt or has a terrible night, we could see a rugby score break out with a quickness. Scoring early and getting the starter out of the game as soon as possible will be the priority offensively, then exploding against the papier-maché bullpens to put the game away.
The key players for Doosan in this series will be outfielder Park Gun-woo and starting pitcher Dustin Nippert. Park, a .366 hitter in the regular season with 20 home runs, is an expert at getting on base and working pitch counts. In a series where knocking the starter out early is paramount, his ability to take 8 or 10 pitches off the starter’s count and wind up on first base for his efforts is invaluable.
I could have picked any of the Doosan starting pitchers here, but I go with Nippert because he’s been a bit shaky this season from time to time and he will have the ball against one of Kia’s top arms. If he pitches like he did last year, “Nip” will give the Bears an edge. If he makes even one mistake with a Hector Noesi or a Yang Hyeon-jeong across the diamond from him, it immediately puts Kia in the driver’s seat.
Honorable mention to Ham Duk-ju, the HamDuck has been the only serviceable bullpen arm for either team this year and could keep Doosan in it in case of a game where a starter has to leave a little earlier than desired.
Speaking of Hector Noesi, he’s one of my two players to watch for the regular season champions, along with shortstop and regular season batting champion Kim Sun-bin.
Noesi was a tour de force in the first half of the season, but looked human again closer to the end. Much like Nippert, it’s a tale of two pitchers, and whichever rendition shows up will go a long way to seeing who wins the day. Honorable mention to Pat Dean for doing almost the exact opposite, recovering from a shaky early season showing to play some strong ball late on.
From the position players, the .370 hitting Kim overcomes his diminutive 165cm (5 foot 4 inch) stature with a great knowledge of the strike zone and elite bat control. His glove is also above average, with remarkable range in those relatively short strides. He can easily alter the game with the bat or the glove, and his 34 doubles show his ability to hit gap to gap.
If he and Roger Bernadina can start a game with long at-bats, if even one reaches base in front of the big bats in the middle of that order, one swing could turn the game on its heels.
All in all, this series will be won or lost in a hit here, a stolen base there, or a hanging curve that catches just too much of the plate. It’s hard to predict the MVP of a series with so little separating it, it likely goes to whoever comes through with that one big hit, or the pitcher who hurls a complete game shutout to flip the tempo of the series. Solely based on his versatility and ability to hit for both contact and power, as well as his above average range in the outfield, I’ll give the Korean Series MVP to Kia’s all-star outfielder Roger Bernadina.
Fun fact of the series, Kia slugger Choi Hyeong-woo has stolen at least one base in every season since 2008. Albeit never swiping more than 4 in a year, he hasn’t taken one yet this year, being cut down by Hanwha’s Jo In-sung on 8 April, his only try.
Who will win and why?
Doosan in 6.
The two teams are very evenly matched, but Doosan are coming in hot and have the edge in playoff experience. Doosan’s confidence in this matchup should be high, as the only team this season to have a winning record against KIA, including a 6-0 win in Gwangju in their final and most important meeting of the season. While KIA would go on to retain first place and their free pass to the Korean Series, Doosan were able to climb the ladder to their championship in 2015, and have a much shorter way to go this time. I see the teams splitting the first two games, Doosan taking two of three in Jamsil, and closing it out in game 6.
KIA – Hector Noesi
While KIA’s number one pitching import finished the season with 20 wins (for those who care about that stat) and strong numbers across the board, he was not exactly dominant to end the season, with a 4.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in his final 5 outings, despite four of the five games being against the bottom feeders of the league (the remaining game being the aforementioned loss to Doosan in their final meeting, giving up 5 runs in 6 innings, including two home runs). That said, he was the most heavily used pitcher in the league this season (over 200 IP), and the extended rest could help him get back to his early season dominance. Given that he is likely to make at least two starts this series, KIA will need him to look sharp if they are going to win the championship.
KIA – Choi Hyung-woo
The big prize in last winter’s free agency had a strong first season with KIA, helping them take first place early and build a big enough lead that they were able to stay there, despite a close finish to the season. While Choi’s strong start to the season may have been the main reason KIA jumped out to such a lead, his slump to end the season was surely one of the reasons their first place finish was ever in jeopardy. Of his 26 HR, only one came in the final 25 games, a stretch in which he posted an OPS of just .602. KIA will have to hope he’s snapped out of it, because without top level production from Choi, it will be tough for them to keep up with Doosan’s offense.
Doosan – Dustin Nippert
Last season’s MVP and one of the franchise’s all-time great players has struggled to live up to expectations this year. After some disastrous performances post all-star break, he seemed to be getting back in form to end the season. His start against NC was a mixed bag, striking out 9, but only lasting until the 6th inning, after giving up his 6th run of the game. However, had it not been for a few untimely errors, his stat line may have looked a lot different. He will need to control his pitch count and avoid giving up the long ball in order to give Doosan a chance to win. The team has continued to show confidence in him, and he will likely start one of the first two games of the series, as well as a potential series clincher in game 5, 6, or 7.
Doosan – Kim Jae-ho
Kim saw his first action since late August in the NC series, and if he is healthy enough to take back his starting position, his steady hand at the plate and in the field have to be considered an upgrade over the youngster Ryu Ji-hyeok, who, despite showing flashes of potential, has ultimately looked out of place in the playoffs thus far both at the plate (.230) and in the field (whatever the official error count was does not do it justice). Kim is no superstar, and no favourite of mine, but his return to the starting lineup could be the extra push Doosan needs to take home their third straight championship.
Kim Jae-hwan, the best player on either team, looks to cap off the season with a strong performance and a Korean Series MVP award.
Who will win and why?
So I am going to stick with my prediction from earlier in the season and say that Doosan beats Kia in the Korean Series. I said a few days ago that I think it will be won in 6 games and I am going to stick with that number (though I would prefer to see it in 5 at Jamsil). Kia has a strong team, but they have a few players who are playing in their first Korean Series and I think the pressure will get to them. Doosan on the other hand is playing in their third straight Korean Series and fourth in the past five years. Their experience in the Korean Series will pay big dividends I believe (especially pitching). I will say that Kia loses for the first time in a Korean Series, as they are well past due to lose one.
I believe that two key players in this series will be the game 1 starters (Dustin Nippert and Hector Noesi), because we are more than likely to see either one brought back on short rest depending on which way the series goes. I will talk more about two position players who may have a bigger impact throughout a series as they will be playing every game.
The player for Kia is Kim Sun-bin, the KBO batting champion. I think that he will get his hits, but for some reason I think he is going to struggle in important moments in this series. On the defensive side of the ball he will be solid, but that will be overshadowed by his struggles at the plate.
For Doosan I will choose Min Byeong-hyeon. He has been a huge contributor in Doosan’s past two appearances in the Korean Series, and I see him doing no less in this year’s Korean Series (in what may be his last season with the Doosan). On top of that, I am going to name him as the Korean Series MVP.
As far as predicting which games will go which way, I am unsure of that at the moment. You never know in these big games, especially in the KBO. Who knows, everything I predicted above will probably be dead wrong anyways…because it’s the KBO. Here’s to a good series for both teams and a BIG DOOSAN VICTORY!
Who will win and why?
My original prediction for the 2017 was for the Doosan Bears to win it all (midseason I had thought KIA…but after both team’s recent form, I’ll go back to my orignal prediction of Doosan.)
I think this series will be a back and forth one where a lot of runs will be scored and bullpens will be hit hard. Doosan will be hoping that their formerly known as Fantastic Four returns to their 2016 form. The Bears bats were hot against NC and I think they’ll stay that way against KIA. KIA, like all other regular season champions, has now sat for 3 weeks. I think that rust will come into play early in the Series which may result in KIA having to try and come from behind in games and the Series. I predict this series will go 7 games, with Doosan bats, postseason experience, and bullpen being the key.
Doosan’s Dustin Nippert and Ham Duk-joo
KIA’s Yang Hyeon-jong and Hector Noesi
Doosan’s Park Keon-woo
Who will win and why?
It pains me to say this, but I have a sneaky suspicion the championship in staying in Seoul. I know almost always the pennant winners go on to take the final honours, but the Tigers are squaring up to their worst case scenario; a battle with the defending champions who probably learnt more in Game 1 v NC than they did in the next 3.
The main reason I think Doosan will pip this huge battle against an evenly matched team is Kia’s bullpen is just so awful. Starting pitchers and infielders will probably start rusty and I expect most to have a very good series. But the minority will likely cost Kia the win. The pen (which least we forget has blown 6 and 7 run 9th inning leads this season) won’t have enough time to overcome their undoubted frailties. Advantage Doosan. 6 games.
Kim Jae-hwan‘s offense this season (35 home runs, 7.79 WAR) has seen the slugger propelled into the elite level of KBO batters. Doosan is a team bulging with talent but Kim is the man most likely to cause damage. Ham Duk-ju could have a pivotal role to play in this Series. Both teams have the power and starters, but a guiding hand from the pen is badly needed. It backfired spectacularly on NC but if Doosan’s starters begin to struggle early, they have the ace card ready to play. It is worth remembering his age, and some experts believe a bad inning is imminent, but he was almost perfect against NC and doesn’t look fazed by expectations.
For Kia, whilst they’ll need Yang Hyeon-jeong and Hector Noesi to dominate like they did early season, their quality is not in doubt. However, KIA can’t win this championship with 2 top class starting pitcher. Pat Dean, 9-7 and 4.14 ERA, showed glimpses in August and September that he is approaching some considerable form. With a terrible bullpen, KIA need their starters to go deep every game. With the bat, it is hard not to look past their middle order giants. Choi Hyeong-woo‘s form was patchy, at best, by the end of the regular season, but his experience and quality could have a huge say in the destination of the trophy.
If Doosan wins, someone like Kim Jae-hwan or Park Geun-woo. For Kia, one of the old dogs. Choi Hyeong-woo or Lee Beum-ho.
Who will win and why?
Question marks and more question marks hang over this Korean Series. It’s a match-up that many people expected but few feel certain about. In many ways it is the Korean Series the league deserves, with the Kia Tigers in 1st facing the 2nd place Doosan Bears.
However, is 3 weeks rest too much for the Tigers? How will the starters perform? How quickly can the Kia batters get hot? How will the rest affect the bullpen?
On the flip side, how much does the playtime against the Dinos help Doosan? Can they keep up the hot bats? Can their starters settle down and their bullpen keep up the good work?
All of these questions will be answered soon enough. In the meantime we can only speculate. However, one thing does seem clear, the Series will be a battle. So, expect 6 or 7 games and if the rest does not turn to rust, another Korean Series win for the Kia Tigers.
Who will win and why?
My gut is saying that after their last 3 hot games, Doosan has a solid chance to threepet. If Kia’s bullpen doesn’t implode like has the second half of the season then I would have to give it to Kia.
I am going to say Kia wins it in 6 games, I think they will lose game 1 due to some rust but once they get their legs under them I see them getting back in shape. Kia has been on top of the hill all season and I don’t see that changing after they remember how to play baseball.
I see starting pitching playing a huge part of this series. If Nippert has a repeat performance like he did in last game and can’t last long that will be a huge blow to Doosan
For hitting for Doosan they need to continue to get solid hit from the two O’s, Oh Jae won and Oh Jae il.
For Kia: Hector and Na Ji wan. Hector needs to continue to dominate like he did earlier in the season and Na Ji Wan has post season and Korean Series experience. On a side note I am still bitter about him and game 7 from 2009.
Kia will win if: Their starting pitching actually can go 6 innings and the bullpen doesn’t give up 10 runs in one inning again.
Doosan wins if: Their bats continue to be alive like their were against NC and Nippert pitches like he did last past season.
I am going to say that Hector gets the MVP with 2 wins and some possible bullpen work.
Who’s winning and why?
I’ll take the Tigers in 7 but both teams are very evenly matched. It’s hard to predict, but it will most likely be a high scoring series based on the 2 lineups.
For the Tigers, they are Yang Hyeon-jeong, Hector Noesi and big Choi (if he snaps out of his late season slump the Tigers should win, if he’s cold, they will lose).
Key Players for Doosan – who cares, I hate them all lol.