Bears battle Lions for the Korean Series
While the Lions have been waiting for their Korean Series opponent as the regular season winner, the Bears made the cut by beating the NC Dinos in the best-of-five playoff series. The Seoul-based club beat the Dinos 6-4 on Saturday at Masan Baseball Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, to clinch the series 3-2.
This is the fifth time that the Lions and the Bears have met in the Korean Series. In their previous four meetings, each took the title twice. The most recent match-up was in 2013 when the Lions won the series 4-3 by taking the last three games.
The Lions will host the first two games starting today before the series continues from Thursday to Saturday in Seoul. Game 6 and 7 will be in Daegu on Monday and Tuesday next week if necessary.
The Lions led the Bears 11-5 in the regular season, but this time, they are without three core pitchers following their alleged involvement in an illegal gambling scandal.
Lions CEO Kim In announced last week that the team wouldn’t field players suspected of gambling, but didn’t provide any names. In the Lions’ Korean Series roster announced on Sunday, however, pitchers Yoon Sung-hwan, An Ji-man and Lim Chang-yong were excluded, suggesting that they are currently under investigation.
The players have also been excluded from Korea’s final roster for the Premier 12 international baseball tournament, the KBO announced Sunday.
The three have been pivotal for the Lions this season. Yoon had the most wins among Lions pitchers after going 17-8 with a 3.76 ERA. An topped the league in holds at 37, while Lim was the league’s best closer with 33 saves.
With the right-hander ace Yoon out of the lineup, the team will have to do its best with its four remaining starting pitchers: Alfredo Figaro, Tyler Cloyd, Jang Won-sam and Cha Woo-chan.
As for the relief and closing roles, the Lions are likely to give more time to Sim Chang-min, who went 6-4 with a 4.28 ERA, collecting nine holds.
In addition, Lions manager Ryu Joong-il said he will utilize Cha not only as a starter, but also as a relief or even closer. The 28-year-old lefty led the league in strikeouts at 194.
“In the regular season, we have been relying on starting pitchers,” Ryu said. “The utilization of Cha and Sim will be high.”
For Game 1 in Daegu, the Lions announced that Figaro will start. The 31-year-old Dominican right-hander went 13-7 with a 3.38 ERA this season. However, he went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA against the Bears this season.
The Bears have played nine games in the past two weeks, and they will be playing Game 1 of the Korean Series with just a one-day rest.
“We think the stamina of the Bears’ pitchers and field players will have been weakened,” said Ryu.
KBO history is also not on the Bears’ side. So far, 11 teams have reached the Korean Series after a play-off series that went to Game 5, but only two of those teams went on to win the championship title.
Bears manager Kim Tae-hyung said that the team will overcome the situation.
“We feel good about reaching this stage with a win,” Kim said. “We hope be called the ‘miracle’ Doosan.”
For Game 1, the Bears will field lefty ace Yoo Hee-kwan. The 29-year-old had his career best of 18-5 with a 3.84 ERA this season, but in the post season, he disappointed.
Yoo surrendered three runs out of four against the Nexen Heroes in the semi-playoff round on Oct. 13, followed by giving up four runs in just 2 1/3 innings against the Dinos on Oct. 21. He didn’t play against the Lions in the regular season.
“I will just try to pitch comfortably,” he said. “I’ll take the blame if I don’t pitch well this time around.”
One factor providing some comfort to the Bears has been the performance of right-hander ace Dustin Nippert, who has typically been strong against the Lions. The 34-year-old American, who was voted as MVP for the playoff series against the Dinos, has gone 14-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 23 starts against the Lions in his career.
BY Joo Kyung-don [email@example.com]