Published : 2013-10-03 13:50
Updated : 2013-10-03 13:50
The Samsung Lions have become the first club to win the South Korean baseball pennant in three consecutive seasons.
The Lions clinched first place in the 2013 regular season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) with a 9-2 win on the road over the Lotte Giants in Busan Wednesday night.
The win improved the Lions' record to 75 wins, 50 losses and two ties, with one game remaining in 2013. They hold a three-game lead over the Nexen Heroes.
The Lions are the first club in the KBO's 31-year history to top the regular season standings in three straight seasons.
Four different clubs have won back-to-back pennants in six different occasions, with the SK Wyverns having done so most recently in 2007 and 2008. The Lions had also won two straight pennants from 2001 to 2002, from 2005 to 2006, and again from 2011 to 2012.
In the KBO playoffs, the regular season champions receive a bye to the Korean Series, the championship finals. The Lions have won the past two Korean Series and will try to become only the second KBO team, after the 1986-89 Haitai (currently Kia) Tigers, to claim at least three straight Korean Series titles.
History will also be on the Lions' side. The KBO adopted the current, four-team playoff format in 1989. Except for the 1999 and 2000 seasons when the KBO was divided into two leagues, there have been 22 pennant winners until 2012, and 19 of them have gone on to win the Korean Series, a success rate of more than 86 percent.
The 2013 Lions have clinched the pennant without the aid of big arms from overseas. The KBO teams are each afforded two foreign players -- except for the expansion NC Dinos, who can carry up to three foreigners in their first two KBO seasons -- and all clubs have signed pitchers to fill their quota. While most contending teams rely heavily on starting pitchers with U.S. major or minor league experience, the Lions' best hurlers have been homegrown talent.
They're the only KBO team this season with four South Korean pitchers with at least 10 victories, led by Bae Young-soo with 14.
Rick van den Hurk has spent some time in the minors and is just 7-9. The Lions had Aneury Rodriguez as the other foreign pitcher to start the season before sending him home with a 3-5 record and a 4.40 ERA.
His replacement, Esmailin Caridad, has pitched just 2 1/3 innings and given up seven earned runs, and had mostly been pitching in the minors.
The Lions' depth on offense also helped the team fight through tough stretches in the summer, when some of their regulars were befallen by injuries. They don't have anyone leading the league in an offensive category, but they're second in team batting average, second in runs scored and third in home runs.
Cleanup Choi Hyung-woo has paced the offense with 28 home runs and 96 RBI, both second in the KBO, ably filling the void left by veteran slugger Lee Seung-yeop when he was demoted to the minors to deal with back issues.
In limited opportunities, Chae Tae-in, once a much-maligned player for his mental lapses on the field, is batting .381. He doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, but manager Ryu Joong-il said Chae, a former U.S. minor league prospect, has been the team's MVP on offense.
The pennant winners typically get about two weeks off between the end of the regular season and the start of the Korean Series.
For 2013, the regular season is scheduled to end on Saturday, but the Lions' final game will be on Thursday. The Game 1 of the Korean Series, barring rainouts in earlier rounds, will start on Oct. 24.
In the KBO postseason, the No. 3 and the No. 4 seeds meet in the best-of-five opening round. The winner goes on to meet the No.2 club from the regular season in the second round, also best-of-five. The Korean Series is best-of-seven. (Yonhap News)