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S. Korean baseball champs Lions depart for Taiwan for Asia Series

All Headlines 12:30 November 13, 2013

INCHEON, Nov. 13 (Yonhap) -- The reigning South Korean baseball champion Samsung Lions departed for Taiwan on Wednesday to participate in an international offseason tournament of regional league winners.

The Lions will represent the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) at the Asia Series to be held from Friday to next Wednesday in Taichung, Taiwan.

This will be the seventh edition of the tournament. It has traditionally brought together league champions from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Australia. For 2013, China won't have any representative, while an Italian club named Fortitudo Baseball Bologna will be playing for the first time. They are the 2012 European Cup champion.

Taiwan, as the host country, will have its league champion, the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, and the runner-up, EDA Rhinos, in the tournament. They will be joined by the Australian Baseball League (ABL) champion, the Canberra Cavalry, and the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) champ, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Fortitudo, Samsung and the Taiwanese Lions will be paired in Group A. The Rhinos, the Cavalry and the Golden Eagles are in Group B.

After round-robin group play from Friday to Sunday, the top two clubs from each side will reach the semifinals, to be played next Monday and Tuesday. The final is scheduled for next Wednesday.

The Samsung Lions' first game will be against Fortitudo on Friday. Two days later, the Lions will take on the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions.

The Lions became the first KBO winner of the Asia Series in 2011, beating the SoftBank Hawks in the final held also in Taiwan. South Korea hosted the Asia Series for the first time last year, but the Yomiuri Giants of Japan won the tournament.

An NPB club has won five of the first six Asia Series.

Because the tournament is held after the end of seasons in participating leagues, teams often don't bring their star players who choose to rest and heal nagging injuries. Free agents also sit out the Asia Series as they hope to avoid injuries before signing potentially lucrative contracts.

The Lions will be without two of their biggest stars, both of who happen to be free agents this winter: closer Oh Seung-hwan and starter Jang Won-sam.

The Lions recently granted Oh his wish to test foreign waters this winter, and the right-handed pitcher could either be posted for Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs or enter negotiations with NPB teams.

Jang, the MVP of the 2011 Asia Series, will sit out the tournament this time, with his future with the Lions still unclear. Two other starters, Rick van den Hurk and Yoon Sung-hwan, will also be missing.

Outfielder Choi Hyung-woo, who led the Lions with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs during the regular season, will undergo surgery to remove bone spurs in his right elbow this week and will not play in the Asia Series.

Outfielder Park Han-yi, the 2013 Korean Series MVP, is also a free agent, but he will travel with the team to Taiwan. He has reportedly agreed in principle to re-sign with the Lions and is expected to wrap up his contract talks with the team while in Taiwan.

One major name set to take part in the Asia Series will be Rakuten's right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. He recently put together a 30-start winning streak, dating back to last summer, before it was snapped in the Japan Series. After going 24-0 with a 1.24 ERA during the regular season, Tanaka will likely attract huge bids from MLB clubs this winter, as the Golden Eagles are expected to post him.

It's not yet clear if Tanaka will actually pitch in the Asia Series. In the Japan Series that ended earlier this month, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in a complete-game loss in Game 6 and tossed 15 more pitches on the very next day for the save in the clinching Game 7.


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