The Doosan Bears, winners of the past two Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) titles, are heavily favored to repeat as the champions in 2017.
That doesn't mean their players aren't wary of their opponents.
Kim Jae-ho of the Doosan Bears hits a two-run home run against the SK Wyverns in their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Incheon SK Happy Dream Park on March 21, 2017. (Yonhap)
Shortstop Kim Jae-ho, team captain, and catcher Yang Eui-ji, voted the 2016 Korean Series MVP, in particular picked their Seoul rival LG Twins as their main competition.
The two players represented the club at the annual KBO media day. During the pre-festivities interview, Kim recalled the Twins have never been an easy opponent.
"We've always played tight games," he said. "We've given up a bunch of runs against them too. We have to keep our eye on that club."
The Twins, which share Seoul's Jamsil Stadium with the Bears, used a second-half surge to reach the postseason in 2016. They've retained key members from that team and signed veteran left-hander Cha Woo-chan to a four-year, 9.5 billion-won deal (US$8.5 million), the largest contract ever handed to a free agent pitcher, to show they mean business.
Yang singled out the Kia Tigers as a threat to the Bears' throne. The Tigers were also a big spender in the winter, inking slugger Choi Hyoung-woo to a four-year, 10 billion-won deal, and adding the reigning batting champion to an already strong lineup.
They also acquired former big league outfielder Roger Bernadina.
"Getting Choi Hyoung-woo is definitely a big plus for them," Yang said. "And their young pitchers have also made strides."
Yang, considered the KBO's best two-way catcher, backstopped the league's best rotation last year. No. 1 starter Dustin Nippert was voted the league MVP thanks to a league-leading 22 wins and a 2.95 ERA, while Michael Bowden (18 wins), Chang Won-jun and Yoo Hee-kwan (15 wins apiece) also did their share. This was the first starting rotation in the league history with four 15-game winners.
"Our starters always pitched deep into games, and that allowed our relievers to conserve their energy and go all-out when they had to," Yang said. "Our starting pitchers were so good that they made our bullpen guys look mediocre by comparison."
Kim said starting pitching will once again carry the Bears in 2017.
"I think our offense and starting pitching will be solid as usual," the captain said. "Relief pitching will hold the key for our third straight title." (Yonhap)