Landers extend lead as KBO gets a lot louder
The SSG Landers lost their first series of the 2022 KBO season over the weekend, but still extended their dominant lead in first place with just four losses so far this season.
Unexpectedly, it was the eighth-place Hanwha Eagles that handed the Landers their first series loss of the season, beating the Incheon club 2-1 over the weekend.
The Eagles, who going into the series had only won six games so far this season, slipped past the Landers with a 2-0 win on Friday before cementing that victory with a much stronger 9-2 victory on Saturday. The Landers came back with a 3-1 win on Sunday, but the damage was already done.
Yet despite the setback, the Landers dominance continues. The first-place team started the week with a midweek series against the Kiwoom Heroes, losing the opener 8-5 before winning 6-1 on Wednesday and taking the rubber match 4-2.
Those two series combined mean that the Landers have picked up three of their four losses this season within the last week, possibly suggesting that the Incheon club is starting to lose some of the overwhelming momentum they started the season with. It likely won’t matter — the Landers are still four points clear at the top of the KBO and their performance over the last 10 games is beaten only by the third-place Lotte Giants.
The second-place LG Twins have had a tougher week, winning just two of their last six games after being swept by the seventh-place KT Wiz at home.
The Wiz’s visit to Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul was a disaster for the Twins, with the Suwon club taking all three games, 5-0, 5-3, 6-2. The result was good news for the reigning champion Wiz, who have got off to a rough start this season, but it put the Twins on the back foot going into the all-important Jamsil derby over the weekend.
The derby, between stadium partners LG and the Doosan Bears, is always one of the most highly anticipated match ups of the KBO season, but often there is little more on the line than bragging rights. The stakes were higher this year, however, as the Twins and Bears are also fighting over second place.
The Twins emerged victorious, winning two of the three games to take back second and lead the Bears and Giants by half a game in third place. The Twins won the opener 5-1, dropped the Saturday game 4-2, then came back to win the rubber match 5-0.
Doosan may have lost the derby but they still walked away with a series win last week, beating the Kia Tigers in two of three games while on the road down in Gwangju.
But the Bears are grappling with a bigger issue this week — the poor performance of 2021 KBO MVP Ariel Miranda.
The Seoul club on Sunday sent Miranda, who last year set a new KBO record for the most strikeouts in a single season, at 225, down to the Futures League after he gave up 12 walks in his first two games this year. The Cuban pitcher will stay in the minor league until his performance improves, Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyoung said.
But while Doosan and LG have had trying weeks, the resurgent Giants swept old rivals the Samsung Lions over the weekend to jump up to tie for third place.
Before reaching the Lions, the Giants, who are seven and three over their last 10 games, had a difficult visit from the Eagles, losing two of three games at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan.
The Eagles, who clearly started their week with the same momentum they later carried into that Landers series, beat the Giants 6-2 on Tuesday, before dropping the second game 7-0 and coming back to narrowly win the rubber match 7-6.
Going into the weekend, the Giants looked much more confident, beating the Lions 8-2, 4-2, 7-4.
The fifth-place Heroes followed their midweek loss to the Landers with another over the weekend as the sixth-place Tigers narrowed the gap, winning 5-4 on Friday and 14-2 on Sunday with the Heroes taking the Saturday game 3-1.
The Tigers and Eagles weren’t the only trailing teams to put up a strong performance over the last week.
The Wiz followed up their sweep of the Twins with a weekend victory over the last-place Dinos, the clash between the last two KBO champions offering very little fireworks as the Wiz won the first two games 4-3, 4-3, and the Dinos took a consolation game 2-1.
The Suwon club will now have to continue without slugger Henry Ramos, who was taken out with a broken toe over the weekend. Ramos is the second Wiz player to be sidelined with a broken toe, with Kang Baek-ho out since the start of the season with a similar injury.
Even the Dinos didn’t have a terrible week, however, with only the Lions really able to claim that dubious honor. The Dinos won their midweek series with two games to one, leaving the Lions with just two wins over their last 10 games.
Results aside, the weekend series marked a huge milestone for the KBO’s return to normalcy, as the league permitted vocal cheering for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The return of cheering had an immediate impact on the league, with three home teams — the Bears at Jamsil, the Landers at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon and the Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul — setting new attendance records for the season.
The KBO will be back and as loud as ever on Tuesday, when the Dinos head to Jamsil to take on the Bears, the Landers visit the Giants in Sajik and the Twins head to Daegu to take on the Lions. The Tigers will face the Wiz in Suwon and the Heroes will visit the Eagles in Daejeon.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]