Playoff dreams fade for Korean baseball players
Kim Byung-hyun of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and Choi Hee-seop of the 2004 Los Angeles Dodgers are the only two Korean-born major leaguers who have appeared in the postseason.
Through Tuesday, in Korea, only Park Chan-ho was in the playoff position, with his San Diego Padres holding a one-and-a-half game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League wild card race. However, he is on the disabled list and not sure if he will be able to play if they do reach the playoffs.
Kim Sun-woo, a right-hander who was traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 5, held the next best spot, as the Reds trailed the Dodgers by five games.
The others have been eliminated from contention.
Pitcher Seo Jae-weong is on the perennially rebuilding Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who had the worst winning percentage in all of baseball as of Tuesday. Righty Ryu Jae-kuk is pitching in relief for the Chicago Cubs, who have the worst record in the National League.
Kim Byung-hyun’s Colorado Rockies have gone 26-36 since the All-Star break to fade to a 70-80 record. Choo Shin-soo patrols right field for the Cleveland Indians, who, after coming within two games of a postseason spot last year, are sitting at 69-79. Baek Cha-seung, a right-hander from Busan, is a starter for the 71-79 Seattle Mariners.
Park, who joined the majors 12 years ago, has never pitched in the playoffs. In 1996, his Dodgers reached the postseason with a wild card, but were swept by the Atlanta Braves in the best-of-five division series. Park wasn’t a full-time starter then.
Last season, the Padres were the NL West champions, but Park was left off the playoff roster. San Diego bowed out to the St. Louis Cardinals in three straight games.
This season, the Padres could return to the postseason, but Park could again end up watching from afar. He underwent surgery to stop intestinal bleeding on Aug. 23 and was expected to miss at least four weeks.
“If I can come back before the regular season ends [on Oct. 1], it will be difficult for me to start games,” Park wrote on his personal Web site. “I am preparing for relief appearances down the stretch. I lost some weight, but I am working out and feeling pretty good.”
Veterans Seo and Kim Byung-hyun can’t be feeling too good, especially after their latest starts on Saturday, Korean time.
Against the Toronto Blue Jays, Seo pitched six innings and gave up one unearned run, but the Jays prevailed 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th. Kim, facing his former team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowed three runs and struck out five in seven innings, but the Rockies managed only a run against NL Cy Young Award candidate Brandon Webb in the 5-1 loss.
The lack of run support is nothing new for Seo: in his 13 starts with Tampa Bay, the team scored two runs or fewer in six of them.
The young guns ― Choo, Ryu and Cha ― are hoping for a break that could help keep them on the roster next season.
Ryu, 23, was called up for the fourth time this season on Sept. 5, and has appeared in four games since. In six innings pitched, Ryu has given up one earned run and struck out eight. In his only start of the season on May 28 against the Braves, Ryu was hammered for four homers in just an inning and a third pitched.
The Cubs boast a slew of promising starters under the age of 30, so Ryu has a tough challenge to make it into the starting rotation next year, and he may not get any starting assignments this month.
Baek, of the Mariners, has had a smoother ride than Ryu. Joining the team on Aug. 22, Baek, 26, was immediately inserted into the rotation. He won three of his first four starts, including a seven shutout-inning performance against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 8. Last Wednesday, though, Baek was rocked for six runs in three and one-third innings pitched against the Blue Jays.
Baek was 12-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 24 starts with Triple-A Tacoma. It’s been a stark turnaround from last year, when Baek was taken off Seattle’s 40-man roster after struggling to an 8-8 record and a 6.41 ERA. Baek re-signed with Seattle as a minor-league free agent.
“Last year, I gave up too easily,” Baek told the Seattle Times. “Runners on, I just give [sic] up. This year, runners on, I have better focus.”
Unlike Ryu, Baek will get a long look as a possible No. 5 starter for the next season on the eclectic Mariners rotation of a veteran lefty (Jarrod Washburn), a reclamation project (Joel Pineiro) and a 20-year-old phenom (Felix Hernandez).
“I think everybody pitching is a candidate, everybody coming out of the bullpen and starting,” Hargrove said about the 2007 rotation, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Choo, 24, is the only Korean position player in the majors this year. Though he’s batting solid .276 on the season, including .293 in 35 games with Cleveland, Choo has not homered since Aug. 3, and has only two extra-base hits this month.
The left-hitting Choo didn’t start some games against left-handed starters, including the Sept. 6 game against the Blue Jays’ Ted Lilly, even after Choo went 5-for-8 in the two previous games in Toronto. On the season, Choo has had only 17 at-bats against lefties, getting five singles.
“I’ve got to get better against lefties,” Choo told the Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer, adding that he will practice hitting left-handers in his hometown of Busan during the offseason. “I do not want to be a platoon player.”
On the other hand, Choo has been recognized for his defensive efforts. Another local paper, The Chronicle-Telegram, reported that, “The Indians have gotten above-average defense from their outfield, with the addition of Choo strengthening the department.”
The Indians manager Eric Wedge noted Choo has a strong and an accurate arm.
“It’s another way to impact the game,” Wedge told The Chronicle-Telegram. “When you have [such an arm], you have a chance to be a difference-maker.”
by Yoo Jee-ho