Race for the wildcard spot heats up

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Race for the wildcard spot heats up


From left: The Kia Tigers celebrate after winning a game against the LG Twins on Friday. The Lotte Giants celebrate after beating the Kia Tigers on Aug. 8. [NEWS1, YONHAP]

As the Korea Baseball Organization’s top four teams secured their places in the postseason after Sunday’s game, the race for the one remaining wildcard spot will hold fans’ attentions for the last two weeks of the regular season.

Although the Kia Tigers are the favorites to clinch the wildcard spot, the Lotte Giants have kept their hopes alive for a second straight postseason appearance thanks to their multiple game cancellations during the season.

During the last two weeks of the regular season, teams make up their games canceled due to weather conditions. The Giants have 12 canceled games to the Tigers’ 11, so they have an opportunity to claw their way back.

Since the Samsung Lions and the LG Twins only have four more games remaining, it is unlikely that the Twins and the Lions will secure spots in the postseason this year.

In September, the Tigers were one of the hottest teams in the KBO, finishing second in the league with 15 wins and eight losses for a .652 winning percentage for the month.

Thanks to the Tigers’ successful September, as of Monday, the Tigers are only one win short of achieving a .500 winning percentage.

Since they are only four games behind the-fourth ranked Nexen Heroes, it is unlikely that they’ll catch up to fourth place, but they are in a good position to finish in fifth to take the last postseason spot.

After a three-game winning streak over the weekend, the Tigers will start the last two weeks with a 2.5-game lead ahead of the sixth-ranked Lions and 3.5 game lead ahead of the seventh-ranked Giants.

The Tigers have had strong comebacks towards the end of the game. Ten of their wins after the Asian Games break were come-from-behind victories.

Throughout the month of September, the Tigers have the lowest relief pitcher ERA at 4.66 and highest team batting average between the seventh and ninth inning at .339.

The Tigers have a tough schedule for their first week of canceled games. They’ll host the NC Dinos in Gwangju today and will then have to head straight to Daegu to play the Lions. Then the Tigers will play a three-game series against the SK Wyverns in Incheon, before heading over to Jamsil.

Since the wildcard game is scheduled for only two days after the last regular season game and the Tigers are scheduled to play until the last day, they are in a rush to secure their spot in fifth place to get some rest for the postseason.

The Tigers’ last four games of the season are against the Giants, so they will have to win as many games as possible and extend their lead against the Giants this week to avoid the stress of competing for the last postseason spot.

However, that will not be easy. The Giants have the highest number of games remaining to play this season. Right when it seemed like the Giants’ 2018 seemed to be nothing but a disaster, they have a slim last-minute chance to clinch the final wildcard spot.

When the KBO’s 2018 regular season resumed after the 2018 Asian Games, the Giants were the most disappointing team, losing 10 of the first 11 games. Due to this, they dropped to eighth in the standing and got themselves into a tougher position.

But after their eight-game losing streak, the Giants returned as a new team in the second half of September. Throughout the last two weeks, they picked up nine wins and two losses in 11 games.

As of Monday, the Giants are ranked seventh, 3.5 games behind the Tigers.

Although they still have to catch up to the sixth-ranked Lions, they are not much of a concern to the Giants as they only have four more games remaining in the regular season.

Having the most canceled games is not always a good thing, but considering the Giants’ hot streak in the second half of the month, they may have another chance for a miracle.

The Giants followed a similar path last year. In 2017, the Giants were ranked seventh until the first week of July.

However, after the All-Star break, the Giants started winning more games than any other team. They finished the season in third and advanced to the postseason for the first time in five years.

Although the Tigers still hold a 3.5-game lead on the Giants, if the Giants manage to maintain their margin, they will have another shot at a miracle.

The Giants will play their first rescheduled game against the Wyverns today in Incheon.

BY AN HEE-SOO, LEE HYEONG-SEOK [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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