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New-look KBO to start 34th season as Samsung Lions eye fifth straight title

All Headlines 09:00 March 24, 2015

SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- The new-look Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) will launch its 34th season on Saturday, with all 10 clubs in action across the nation.

The competition, which will be called the "KBO League" in 2015, underwent a handful of changes over the winter, but the one constant is that the Samsung Lions, the four-time defending champions, will be the title favorite. They will chase an unprecedented fifth straight title. Manager Ryu Joong-il has been at the helm for all four previous titles.

The KBO League will welcome the KT Wiz as the 10th club. With the arrival of the expansion franchise, the number of games will rise from 128 last year to 144 this year.

Also, with its second expansion in three seasons, the KBO added a "Wild Card" game between the fourth- and the fifth-place clubs after the end of the regular season. The winner of the showdown will advance to the opening playoff round.

The Lions still boast impressive depth and with the championship core largely intact, the aging yet savvy group could end up in the winner's circle once again.

The Nexen Heroes, the runner-up to the Lions in 2014, will be trying to foil the Lions' bid at history. They've lost hard-hitting shortstop Kang Jung-ho, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason, but should get enough production elsewhere to make another run at the championship.

The Heroes have produced the past three MVPs: second baseman Seo Geon-chang was the 2014 winner after collecting a record 201 hits and winning the batting title with a .370 average. First baseman Park Byung-ho won the MVPs in 2012 and 2013, leading the league in home runs and RBIs in both years.

There could be a dogfight for the next three spots in the standings. The SK Wyverns have missed the playoffs the past two years but are expected to return to their winning ways in 2015 under new manager Kim Yong-hee.

The Doosan Bears, who came within a win of claiming the 2013 championship, missed the postseason in 2014 in manager Song Il-soo's lone season. Former Bears catcher Kim Tae-hyung has replaced Song, and the club is a solid bet to crack the top four once again.

The LG Twins and the NC Dinos, which clashed in the opening round of last year's playoffs, will likely renew their rivalry in the pennant race.

The Hanwha Eagles are an intriguing club. They've finished last in five of the past six years, and they brought in Kim Sung-keun, who won three championships with the Wyverns in a four-year stretch starting in 2007, as their new manager.

Famous for running grueling practices, Kim ran the Eagles into the ground during spring training. The players have said the manager has transformed them and whipped them into shape, though it remains to be seen whether that will translate into more victories.

The Lotte Giants were a team in turmoil last winter, as the front office was accused of illegally using CCTV footage at team hotels on road trips to monitor the players. There was also much squabbling from the players when the front office tried to handpick a new manager. The Giants eventually settled on their former player Lee Jong-woon, a rookie manager with an unenviable task of trying to save the ship from sinking any further.

The Kia Tigers have been on the outside looking in over the past three seasons and will likely stay on the periphery even with the return of starter Yoon Suk-min, who left the Baltimore Orioles earlier this month after an unimpressive season in the minors. The Wiz could join the Giants and the Tigers in the KBO cellar.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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