The Korea Herald


Dreams of October

By 로컬편집기사

Published : March 29, 2011 - 19:04

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KBO champions SK Wyverns to face strong challenge in their bid to repeat

The SK Wyverns, which have won three of the past four championships in South Korean baseball, are once again considered a strong favorite. Led by the disciplinarian of a manager, Kim Sung-keun, they are a team built on pitching, defense and just enough hitting to put runs on the board.

Though they haven’t made much improvement over the offseason, experts agreed the Wyverns still have the championship pedigree.

Former most valuable player Kim Kwang-hyun and hard-throwing righty Song Eun-beom front the Wyverns’ rotation, considered by many the league’s strongest.

“SK can be considered a favorite because of their two pitchers, Kim Kwang-hyun and Song Eun-beom,” said Lee Yong-cheol, an analyst with KBS.

Kim led the KBO last year with 17 wins, and Song had a team-leading 2.30 ERA in 125 innings pitched.
Third baseman Kim Dong-ju is looking to carry Doosan deep into the playoffs this season. (Yonhap News) Third baseman Kim Dong-ju is looking to carry Doosan deep into the playoffs this season. (Yonhap News)

The Wyverns lost a steady right-hander Ken Kadokura to the Samsung Lions but signed another right-hander, Jim Magrane. He was the MVP of Taiwan Series last year for the league champion Brother Elephants.

Lee Hyo-bong, who provides commentary for cable channel MBC Sports Plus, said the Wyverns may not have a distinctive edge over other teams, “but their starting and relief pitching are more stable.”

The Kia Tigers, the 2009 champs who missed the postseason last year, should once again challenge for the crown, experts said.

They’re stacked in starting pitching, with Yang Hyun-jong, a 16-game winner from last year; a third-year KBO vet Aquilino Lopez; former New York Mets starter Seo Jae-weong; and Australian left-hander Travis Blackley, a journeyman from the majors making his KBO debut. The Tigers will also have the service of Yoon Suk-min, a big-game right-hander who had an up-and-down 2010.
Starting pitcher Travis Blackley will try to bring the KBO title back to Kia. (Yonhap News) Starting pitcher Travis Blackley will try to bring the KBO title back to Kia. (Yonhap News)

“They can ride their pitching to the postseason,” Lee Hyo-bong said. “These players all have championship experience (from 2009) and if the starters can lead the way, then the bullpen will follow.”

One key player for the Tigers, though, may actually be a position player. Third baseman Lee Beom-ho, formerly of the Hanwha Eagles, signed on with Kia this offseason after a disappointing season in Japan. Lee, a sleek-fielding third baseman with some pop, batted .391 in eight preseason games.

The Samsung Lions, last year’s runner-ups, could be back for another crack at the title.

“They look to be the steadiest club,” said Ha Il-sung, commentator for KBS N Sports on cable. “They don’t have an explosive offense, but they have a good balance across pitching, defense and the bench.”

The Lions signed a former major league first baseman Ryan Garko during the offseason. The right-handed batter belted 21 home runs for the Texas Rangers, but he had a slow start to the preseason here before hitting two home runs over the final week.

The Lotte Giants, which reached its third straight postseason last year and promptly let go of manager Jerry Royster, will look to extend their playoff appearance streak under the new bench boss Yang Seung-ho.

Before this season, they signed a veteran right-hander Bryan Corey, who was 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in spring. The Giants boast the league’s most potent offense, led by the reigning league MVP Lee Dae-ho and Hong Sung-heun, who switched from designated hitter to left fielder this year.

The Doosan Bears, a perennial underachiever in the playoffs, will look to a former major league arm to help address their hole in starting pitching. Dustin Nippert has gone from pitching for the 2010 American League champion Texas Rangers to the Seoul-based Bears. His new team will count on the 203-centimeter right-hander to be the hard-throwing, front-line starter that it has lacked in recent years.

Speaking of a new pitcher, the LG Twins in the offseason picked up Radhames Liz, a Dominican Republic native whose fastballs have clocked at 160 kilometers per hour. Experts said the Twins, which have not been to the playoffs since 2002, could be the dark horse this season.

“They have two decent foreign pitchers (in Liz and Ben Jukich) and if Bong Jung-keun (a former major leaguer) can step up, they can be a surprising team,” said Heo Koo-youn, an MBC analyst.

“Manager Park Jong-hoon is entering his second season with the team and it’s time for him to show something concrete.”

The Nexen Heroes and the Hanwha Eagles, two bottom feeders last year, are expected to remain so this year. Experts said the two teams don’t have sufficient depth to stay competitive for the entire season. (Yonhap News)