Pre-WBC, Korea inspires no confidence
The Ryu Joong-il squad will begin its World Baseball Classic campaign tomorrow with little success in its warm-up games to ease the concerns that it’s the weakest Team Korea ever.
Korea’s first Pool B game will be against the Netherlands on Saturday. The team plays Australia on Monday and Taiwan on Tuesday. All three games will be held at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan.
Ryu has pledged to bring home an even better result than the semifinal run in 2006 and the runner-up finish in 2009, despite concerns over his team’s pitching resources.
The manager of the 2012 Korean Series champion Samsung Lions was confident that his team is stronger in the batting department than its predecessors.
But that has yet to be proven. On Wednesday, the team lost 1-0 to the military All Star team of Taiwan, which is composed mostly of amateur players affiliated with the Taiwanese military. Korea only recorded three hits in the game.
The team’s batting has had problems since early on, including in its game against the NC Dinos, the new Korea Baseball Organization team. Team Korea lost two of its four exhibition games against the Dinos in Taiwan. In all of its five exhibition games, Korea scored only 11 runs.
The team’s final warm-up match, against the corporate All Star team of Taiwan, was slated for last night.
“The players still lack the ability to cope with breaking balls,” said Kim In-sik, who led Team Korea in the two previous WBCs. Currently the KBO technical director, Kim watched all the exhibition games.
Choo Shin-soo of the Cincinnati Reds, currently the only Korean position player in the Major League, opted to sit out the WBC to focus on training with his new club. Instead, Team Korea brought in three sluggers who have played or are playing in Japan: Lee Seung-yeop, Kim Tae-kyun and Lee Dae-ho, all first basemen.
The trio left had some impact during the exhibition games, with Lee Seung-yeop making five hits in three games, and Kim Tae-kyun and Lee Dae-ho four hits in three games.
Kim Hyun-soo, a Doosan Bears outfielder, impressed with seven hits in four.
But the other batters - including Lee Yong-kyu, Son A-seop, and Lee Jin-young - struggled, hitting two or fewer during the five exhibition games.
It ended up being the pitchers who showed more stable performances.
Among a total of 13 Team Korea pitchers, six joined the team as replacements after aces like Bong Jung-keun, formerly of the Atlanta Braves, Kim Kwang-hyun of the SK Wyverns and Hong Sang-sam of the Doosan Bears withdrew due to injuries. Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers also decided to opt out to train for the big leagues.
But Yoon Suk-min of the Kia Tigers and Jang Won-sam of the Lions pitched solidly during the exhibition games. Yoon threw six scoreless innings in two games against the Dinos while Jang, who holds the title of most 2012 wins in the KBO, allowed one run over 4 2/3 innings in two games. Yoon is expected to start against on Saturday.
Jang, who allowed two hits during 2 2/3 scoreless innings against the Taiwanese team on Wednesday, said he still needed to improve his condition.
“I didn’t allow a run, but it wasn’t satisfactory,” Jang told reporters after the Wednesday game, adding that he had trouble with ball control and speed.
The two best teams of Pool B will advance to the second round, where they will face off against the winners of Pool A - Japan, Cuba, Brazil and China.
Manager Ryu hopes that Korea will advance by winning all games in Pool B, including the one against host Taiwan, who lost all their showdowns with Korea in the previous WBC. Taiwan finished 12th in 2006 and 14th in 2009.
Korea sees Japan as its biggest rival, even above the United States. Korea lost to Japan 5-3 in the 2009 final. In 2006, Japan shut out Korea 6-0 in the semifinals en route to beating Cuba 10-6 in the final. Overall, Korea had four wins and four losses with Japan during the two previous WBC events.
Meanwhile, JTBC, the exclusive Korean broadcaster of the WBC, will broadcast all 39 WBC games. The games also can be viewed in real time on the Web site for the tournament (wbc.jtbc.co.kr).
Park Chan-ho, who is the Major League’s winningest Asian pitcher, will commentate during the broadcasts. With him in the booth for Korea’s games will be Song Jae-woo and Lim Kyung-jin.
The three will travel with Team Korea, whose first game is in Taiwan in March. The second round will be in Japan and the finals in the United States.
By Moon Gwang-lip, Han Yong-sup [firstname.lastname@example.org]