The Korean baseball season, which runs from the end of March to either late October or early November (depending on rain outs), is a 144-game season. Last week, at different times, every one of the 10 league clubs arrived at the half-way point of their season; game 72.
In reality, it doesn’t quite feel like we’re there yet, as the league takes almost a month off in July and August. The All Star break, in Ulsan, is over the weekend of July 13th. Following that, from August 16th to September 3rd, the league shuts down for the Asia Games, taking place in Indonesia.
Nevertheless, here is how GSKBO ranks the teams midway through their grueling season. Part 1, the top 5.
1. Doosan Bears. 50-24-0. 0 games back.
Already 6.5 games clear of Hanwha Eagles in 2nd, the Bears have been the undisputed best team in Korea this season. They’ve been top since week 1 and it would take a brave man to bet against them reclaiming the title they lost to KIA Tigers last October.
Doosan are solid in offense and defense, boasting league best for team batting average, on-base average and slugging. Even more remarkably, they’ve done so without a foreign bat all season. They have the most valuable hitter in the league in Kim Jae-hwan, who leads the league in home runs (26), RBI (74) and WAR (5.88). Pitchers Seth Frankoff and Josh Lindblom have 11 and 9 wins respectfully, putting them top of those stats. Doosan have also recorded the joint most number of saves (25).
Verdict: A. All Star and Asia Games might slow momentum, but Doosan look close to the complete package right now.
2. Hanwha Eagles. 44-31-0. 6.5 GB.
Honestly, who saw this coming? Hanwha Eagles, tipped by many to be cut adrift in 10th spot, are second in the table and not running out of gas. There’s still a long way to go, but the Eagles are full value for their current position and there won’t be too many people hoping for a Hanwha collapse from here.
On paper, they don’t have a roster that looks capable of sustaining a title challenge, but sometimes it takes a new manager to release potential. Han Yong-duk, an Eagle during his entire playing career, moved to Daejeon from Doosan in the off-season and the former pitcher, who struck out over 1,300 batters in a 17-season career, has been an inspired pick up.
Hanwha also have one of the league’s most important players in Jared Hoying. The former Ranger continues a long tradition of excellent batting acquisitions for Hanwha. Currently, he’s batting .341 with 20 home runs, 68 RBIs (joint 3rd in the league) and a 1.065 OPS. Keeping lead-off CF Lee Yong-kyu fit was crucial and Lee has responded with his best season in a long time. Oh, and they have Jeong Woo-ram, who’s way out with 23 saves thus far.
Verdict: A++. The season’s most intriguing prospect, a first play-off spot in over a decade is dangling in front of them.
3. LG Twins. 43-34-1. 8.5 GB.
Another surprise package this season, LG are also showing the benefits of an off-season managerial change. Ryu Joong-il was a champion manager with Samsung Lions and the Korean national team, before moving to Jamsil last winter. The transformation has been swift, with a small group of very key players launching LG to 3rd spot.
Kim Hyun-soo was the most high profile FA pick up and he hasn’t disappointed. Kim leads the league in hits and doubles, and is second on RBIs (69). Ace pitcher Henry Sosa is having his best season in Korea with 14 quality starts in his 16 games. Meanwhile, legendary #33 Park Yong-taek is breaking records as he continues his career which started back in 2002. The Twins definitely look good for a play-off spot.
Verdict: A+. A showdown with flatmates Doosan Bears would be a wonderful spectacle this fall.
4. SK Wyverns: 40-33-1. 9.5 GB.
Much like 2017, the Wyverns hit a disgusting number of home runs – currently, they’re on 126, a full 26 clear of 2nd placed kt wizz. Choi Jeong (26), Jamie Romak (25), Han Dong-min (21) and Kim Dong-yeop (18) are all near the top of the line. Team batting is a lowly .279 and their RBIs are 6th in the league overall, which suggests they might be hitting a lot of solo shots.
Their pitching stats are probably slightly better than their fans think. They give up the fewest number of free passes, and their pitching WHIP is collectively the best in the league. The rest of the key stats are all pretty okay, almost. The one stat which does jump off the page are the 12 blown saves, behind only Lotte Giants. Also, their 56 errors are nearly 20 more than Doosan Bears.
Verdict: B. SK are doing fine but if I had to pick one team in the top 5 likely to drop out, it would be the Wyerns.
5. KIA Tigers. 36-37-0. 13.5 GB.
Seemingly forever trapped between 5th and 6th and a .500 winning percentage, the Tigers look like a team that’s, at any moment, gonna go on a tear kick on. Then they get swept by LG Twins and they’re back to square one. The reality is that none of the key players from 2017 are out-performing last season, with the exception of second baseman An Chi-hong. KIA look the tired, aging team they are fast becoming. Still, there’s enough quality there for now.
Wins have dried up for star lefty Yang Hyeong-jeong, every game looks like it could be Pat Dean’s final one and Yoon Suk-min and Im Ki-yong are both struggling after injury. The bullpen is, as expected, a mess, with a very few saves and holds but a lot of blown saves. Teams are also batting 0.290 against KIA, which puts them level with 10th placed NC Dinos. They don’t have that dominant figure at bat that a lot of their key rivals have either.
Verdict: C. Tigers have shown signs recently that a late season charge is possible, but for now, they are looking over their shoulder and not ahead.