Are the fall ball Bears edging toward another 'Miracle Doosan' moment?
The Doosan Bears are often touted as the KBO’s quintessential fall baseball team, coming alive as the season nears its end and the mercury starts to drop with a late rush up the table and a race for a postseason spot.
This year that late-season surge seemed unlikely. The Bears, plagued by years of free agent losses, are left this season with a handful of aging veterans alongside a youthful lineup of up-and-comers that are largely untested playing 144-game seasons.
When the season started back in April, it seemed likely that this would be the year that Doosan, a perennial postseason contender for more than a decade, would take a tumble. The club has lost so many top players to free agency in the last five years — most recently Park Kun-woo last winter — that it seemed highly unlikely that manager Kim Tae-hyoung had anybody left in the wings waiting to be brought on.
When the season reached the midway point, the results were as expected. On July 2, Doosan sat in eighth place on the KBO table with just two wins over the last 10 games and 5.5 games between them and the fifth-place Kia Tigers in the wildcard spot.
Two weeks later, the club took another blow when they were forced to release reigning KBO MVP Ariel Miranda after injuries sidelined him this season.
Yet despite all of that, there are already signs that the fall ball Bears could be warming up to pull yet another “Miracle Doosan” moment out of thin air.
As of press time Tuesday, the Bears have gradually worked their way up to sixth place with seven wins and three losses over the past 10 games, a recent record that is matched by only the first-place SSG Landers.
The gap with the Tigers is still 4.5 games as of press time, but even that is a sign of significant improvement, down from 8.5 games on July 24.
Looking at the second half of the season as a whole, Doosan rank fourth with a 0.583 winning percentage. If the Bears are able to continue that form with 48 games still to play this season, a playoff ticket could very well still be on the cards.
The turning point for the Bears may well prove to have been last weekend, when the Seoul club headed to Gwangju to take on the Tigers. On both Friday and Saturday in that series, Doosan came from behind to take important wins and chip away at the Tigers lead.
On Friday, Miranda’s replacement Brandon Waddell picked up his first KBO win with two earned runs in five innings and on the Saturday, Jung Soo-bin hit a tie-breaking two-run homer at the top of the ninth. The Bears lost the Sunday game 5-4 in extra innings, but again showed off their potential with four runs at the top of the ninth to tie the score.
For the Bears, this recent run of good form is just a return to very familiar territory.
Last season, Doosan arrived at the midway point in seventh place, 2.5 games behind the NC Dinos in fifth and Kiwoom Heroes in sixth and 4.5 games behind the Landers in fourth. Fast-forward to end of the season and the Bears had climbed to finish in fourth place, and then tore through the playoffs to reach their seventh-consecutive Korean Series.
That push starts in tricky territory this season. From Wednesday, the Bears play their final three-game series of the season against the seventh-place Dinos, the second-best team in the second half of the season with a winning percentage at 0.667 percent.
After the Dinos, the Bears kick off their two-game series season against the Landers, who are posting a 0.714 winning percentage in the second half, this weekend.
If Doosan are able to do some damage in either of those series, the club’s chance of seeing some postseason action this year will look far more likely.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]