Dominant Bears clinch 2018 regular season title
The Bears defeated the Nexen Heroes 13-2 at Jamsil Baseball Stadium on Tuesday to secure their regular season title at 86 wins and 46 losses. The win pushed the Bears to 13 games ahead of the second-ranked SK Wyverns, and with only 12 games remaining in the season, Doosan secured the season’s best regular season record.
This is the Bears’ third regular season victory and fourth consecutive season they have advanced to the Korean Series, where they have won three titles.
In addition to clinching the regular season title, the team also notched an individual record during the game, with cleanup hitter Kim Jae-hwan scoring his 100th run of the season. Kim is the first KBO player to score 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 30 home runs in three consecutive seasons.
“As their manager, I didn’t really do anything,” manager Kim Tae-hyung said to Yonhap. “The players and coaches did all the hard work. I am very grateful for what these players and coaches have done. We’ve had some injuries along the way, and the players really came together and battled through it.”
Although the Bears could have cruised through the remaining regular season games by resting the starting players in the lineup, Kim Tae-hyung played a majority of the starting players and swept the two-game series against the Heroes, winning Wednesday’s game 9-8.
Prior to the start of the season, the Bears weren’t considered a serious contender, as their roster seemed weaker than the 2017 season. After a runner-up finish in the regular season and the Korean Series in 2017, the Bears parted with its longtime foreign pitcher Dustin Nippert and brought in Josh Lindblom, who had played for the Lotte Giants, and a new pitcher, Seth Frankoff.
In the batting lineup, they lost outfielder Min Byung-hun after he signed with the Giants. Not only that, when Kim Hyun-soo announced his return from the MLB, the Bears once again failed to bring him back to his club, and he signed with the rival LG Twins.
Even manager Kim showed concern prior to the season, saying, “I’m worried about the foreign pitchers and our batting lineup.”
Despite the concerns, the Bears were the most consistent team throughout the season, and starting April 7, they never lost their lead in the standings. The Bears shared the lead with the Wyverns on April 28 but never fell from the top spot.
“I moved a few players around and they all responded well,” said Kim. “We never had a major slump that slowed us down.”
Catcher Yang Eui-ji played a crucial role in the team’s defense and offense throughout the season. Yang led the young pitchers including the two foreign pitchers - Lindblom picked up 15 wins and Frankoff picked up 18. This season, Frankoff leads the KBO in wins and Lindblom leads in ERA.
“Honestly, I had a lot of pressure psychologically,” Yang said. “If I looked discouraged by giving up a hit, it might have made the pitchers and the fielders unstable. So I tried to look more confident in that situation.”
Yang has the highest caught stealing average of all catchers in the KBO this season at .400.
“This year especially, I studied a lot by watching major league catchers’ clips on the internet,” Yang said.
In the beginning of the season, the Bears were far from threatening at the plate. Up until April, the Bears’ team batting average was at .286, fifth out of the ten teams. But over the season, Yang’s batting average was good enough the lead the league, at .371.
Due to minor injuries and stomach flu during the Asian Games, Yang’s batting average dropped to .350, but he remains fifth in the league in batting average.
“I was surprised by my batting too,” Yang said. “I’m glad I played well in the beginning of the season when the team’s batting lineup wasn’t playing too well.”
Starting today, the Bears will play a two-game series against the Hanwha Eagles in Daejeon.
BY PARK SO-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]