TAICHUNG, Taiwan (Yonhap News) ― With the opening game of the World Baseball Classic only two days away, South Korea is still waiting for its bats to heat up.
South Korea managed just three hits in an embarrassing 1-0 loss to a team of Taiwanese military players in a practice match Wednesday. The performance left manager Ryu Joong-il literally speechless, as he declined to speak to the media afterward.
South Korea will begin its quest for its first WBC crown on Saturday against the Netherlands. Australia is next on Monday, followed by Taiwan on Tuesday. All games will be played at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium here.
First baseman Lee Seung-yeop is being counted on to be a big run producer for Korea. (Yonhap News)
The South Korean pitching staff has been gutted by injuries to key hurlers, such as WBC veterans Bong Jung-keun and Kim Kwang-hyun.
But Ryu has repeatedly said he believes his hitters will pick up the slack and that the lineup this year may be better than those from the two earlier WBCs.
So far in the team’s buildup to the tournament, as South Korea tries to improve upon its runner-up finish from the previous WBC four years ago, Ryu’s players haven’t responded.
The 1-0 loss Wednesday was the second time South Korea has been blanked in the run-up to the WBC. Against the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization on Feb. 19, the national team got just five hits in a 1-0 loss.
In five practice matches through Wednesday, South Korea has scored only 11 runs and is batting .222. The team has won twice and lost three times, and scored a grand total of one run in those three defeats.
It’s a disconcerting trend for a team that, on paper, boasts good balance of power, contact and speed throughout the order.
On the bright side, the four key hitters expected to form the heart of the lineup have had hits in at least three of the five games.
Kim Hyun-soo, an outfielder for the KBO club Doosan Bears, leads South Korea with seven hits so far. Lee Seung-yeop, a veteran slugger for the KBO champs Samsung Lions, is next with five hits.
But with the rest of the lineup unable to match their production, runs have been hard to come by for South Korea.
In Wednesday’s game, Kim and Lee Dae-ho, a hulking first baseman for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, were the only two players to get hits. They hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, but their teammates failed to drive them home.
A power outage has also been a source of concern. Lee Dae-ho, who ranked second with 24 home runs in the NPB’s Pacific League last year, launched two homers against the Dinos last Sunday. But they have been the only long balls for the national team. Three players have each hit a double, but no one else has recorded an extra-base hit.