Two teams diverging in opposite directionsDuring the first month of the Korean baseball season, the tale of two franchises going in opposite directions has been a fascinating story.
The first-place SK Wyverns are for real. The Cinderella team that defied all preseason predictions last year by reaching the playoffs has come out with a 12-6-0 record (Korean baseball keeps ties for knotted games after 12 innings. In playoffs, it’s 15 innings. There may be no crying in baseball, but in Korea, there is tying).
Through Monday, the team’s five-man starting rotation of Kim Won-hyong, Sin Seung-hyoun, Chei Byung-yong, Yun Kil-hyoun and Song Eun-beom boasted a combined 2.45 earned run average. The overall team ERA is 2.54, well head of the second-place Doosan Bears, at 3.02. The starters have won nine games, averaging 5.2 innings per start.
The Wyverns are the only team with each of its five starters having an ERA under 3.00. Closer Chong Tae-hyon has not allowed a run in 12 innings, picking up two wins and six saves while striking out nine.
On the other side of the ledger, the Wyverns are tied with the Lotte Giants for the league lead in home runs with 17, and have the best team on-base percentage and second-best batting average.
Third baseman Kazuhiko Shiotani, the league’s only Japanese player, leads the league in runs batted in with 19.
The expansion Wyverns are thriving now after years of shrewd drafting, while the last-place LG Twins have failed to usher in a new generation of players to replace their stars in the 1990s due to botched trades and bad free agent signings.
The Twins continue to disappoint fans longing for the team’s heydays in the 1990s. The Twins are on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
They are neither pitching nor hitting: dead last in team batting average, on-base percentage, ERA, walks allowed and in homers allowed.
In a two-game stretch against the Samsung Lions last month, a microcosm of the team’s dismal season, the Twins’ pitchers allowed 13 walks and hit three batters, losing 4-1 and 5-3, respectively. That's 16 free passes against four strikeouts in 16 innings pitched.
And the Lions hurlers? No walks, no hit-by-pitches and 20 Ks.
Former major leaguer Manny Aybar, counted on as the team's first real closer in three years, has yet to pitch this season with an elbow injury. Though X-rays revealed no structural damage, Aybar was told to rest his swollen elbow until he can pitch pain free.
Injuries to other pitchers ― promising rookie reliever Kim Ki-pyo and the team’s fifth starter Kim Kwang-sam ― have decimated the LG pitching staff.
The team has begun a rebuilding phase by giving the young guns more chances to play, and seems intent on taking a few steps back before going forward ― not the greatest news for impatient fans in Seoul.
The city’s other home team, the Bears, coming off a runner-up showing at last year’s Korean Series, are also struggling with a 7-9-2 record.
For better baseball, fans in the nation’s capital may want to take a short trip west to Incheon, where the Wyverns are playing their best ball since relocating there in 2000.
by Yoo Jee-ho