The Samsung Lions should find themselves in the familiar role of being chased in the Korea Baseball Organization this year, and the two-time defending champions will likely have to fend off two teams that are looking to improve upon their performances from 2012.
The Lions overcame a slow start to their 2012 campaign and swept up both the pennant and the Korean Series title for the second straight season.
This year, they will count on their reliable bullpen and potent offense to carry the day.
KBO managers and player representatives pose for a photo during media day in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap News)
Closer Oh Seung-hwan, who topped the KBO with 37 saves in 2012, should once again be the pillar of the bullpen. He is already the league’s all-time leader with 249 saves.
The bullpen has gone through a major makeover. Jong Hyun-wook left the team via free agency, and Kwon Oh-jun and Ahn Ji-man underwent elbow operations.
Kwon has been ruled out for the season while Ahn, after rushing back to the mound for the preseason, hasn’t been very effective.
Right-hander Shin Yong-woon and left-hander Baek Jeong-hyun will fill in the gap, joined by veteran lefty Kwon Hyuk and a hard-throwing 20-year-old Shim Chang-min.
Left-hander Jang Won-sam, who topped the KBO with 17 wins in 2012, returns as the No. 1 starter.
The Lions have replaced their two foreign pitchers, Brian Gordon and Mitch Talbot, with Rick van den Hurk and Aneury Rodrigeuz. Gordon and Talbot together won 25 games, leaving the two new signees with tough shoes to fill.
The Lions last year boasted the league’s highest team batting average and scored the most runs. The core of their lineup will return this year, with veteran Lee Seung-yeop backed up by ever-improving Park Seok-min. Lee, Park and Choi Hyung-woo, the 2011 KBO leader in home runs and RBIs, are all capable of hitting at least 20 home runs and driving in around 90 runs from the heart of the order.
With the addition of the expansion NC Dinos as the ninth team, the KBO will have an odd number of teams, leaving at least one club idle on any given day. Teams will sometimes have as many as four days off in between games. This should benefit clubs with top-heavy rotations and deep bullpens.
The Kia Tigers may just have the best rotation in the league this year. Their starters last year threw a record-tying four straight complete-game victories at one point. After missing the playoffs in 2012, the Tigers will tweak the rotation in 2013.
Anthony Lerew, who won a team-high 11 games as a starter last year, auditioned as the closer in preseason and notched a KBO-best four saves in six games, throwing 6 1/3 scoreless innings. (Yonhap News)