&#91SPORTS VIEW&#93Lions or Tigers? Oh my, I don't know

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[SPORTS VIEW]Lions or Tigers? Oh my, I don't know

All available free agents worth mentioning have been signed and the blueprints for next season are out. With virtually no change in the Samsung Lions' baseball lineup, all bets are on for a repeat of last season's feast. Looking at the competition, the runner-up looks to be the Kia Tigers, who have made some excellent moves to address their weak links.

On the starting rotation, I must say that Kia holds the edge; four of their pitchers ranked in the top 20 last season. The Tigers' Mark Kiefer topped the chart with 19 wins and 9 losses. He posted a 3.34 ERA while teammate Daniel Rios had 14 wins and 5 losses.

This strong duo should carry the season's main load, with Kim Jin-woo as a solid third starter with a 12-11 record last season. Choi Sang-duk, the team's fourth man, no longer piles up double digits but his 8 and 7 record is still respectable and that's probably all the team expects anyway. The one-two punch of the Lions' Lim Chang-yong and Narcisoe Elvira combined for 30 wins and only 12 losses last season, with the pair commanding solid ERAs of 3.08 and 2.50, respectively. Here's the problem: the rest of their rotation can't match the Tigers' lineup.

On the closing side, both teams are firmly anchored, with Kia signing Jin Pil-jung from the Doosan Bears in the off-season and Samsung retaining the services of Noh Jang-jin. With 31 saves last season, Jin edged out Noh's 23.

Offensively, let's look at each position. On first base, Lee Seung-yeob ?Korea's star player ?belongs to Samsung. He clinched the home run title last season with 47 long balls and I see no reason why he won't keep hitting 'em out of the park next season, too. His batting average was .323 with 126 runs scored. Kia's Jang Seong-ho lacks Lee's power but his 0.343 batting average and 95 runs indicates he can make up for brute strength with precision batting. Hands down, Kia holds the upper hand on second base. In Kim Jong-guk, they have two of the swiftest legs in the league.

Kim stole 50 bases last season ?the most in the league ?accounting for one third of Kia's total stolen bases. With a .287 team batting average and 95 runs scored, the Tigers have a second baseman who can hit and also play excellent defense. That's something Samsung might envy, as they are still prowling for a sure fit to this position.

On third base, Kia must cope with the loss of Chung Seong-hun, who was traded to the Hyundai Unicorns for Park Jae-hong because the Tigers wanted someone behind Jang Seong-ho to give them a rocking clean-up duo. Lacking such a weapon during last year's post-season ultimately cost them a berth in the Korean Series. In the outfield both teams possess equal talent.

As for the rest, Samsung holds the upper hand with its catcher and designated hitter. Jin Gap-yong is one of the league's best-rated catchers and Mah Hae-young is Samsung's answer to crunch time situations.

If these two teams are to play in the Korean Series and I have little doubt they will -- it will be Samsung's firepower against Kia's four-man rotation that seals their fate.


by Brian Lee

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