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Defending champion to battle upstart expansion franchise for baseball supremacy

All Headlines 11:30 October 27, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 27 (Yonhap) -- The Doosan Bears will go for their second consecutive baseball championship as they get ready to battle the NC Dinos in the best-of-seven Korean Series starting Saturday.

The first pitch for the championship final in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, the Bears' home.

After running away with the pennant, the Bears had the bye to the Korean Series, and will have the home field advantage. They haven't played since their regular season final on Oct. 8.

They will host Games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, 6 and 7. They won the Korean Series last year after finishing third in the regular season.

The Dinos, which finished second to the Bears in the regular season, advanced straight to the second round, where they eliminated the LG Twins in four. They will host Games 3 and 4, and, if necessary, 5 at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, some 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

In just their fourth KBO season, the Dinos will be playing in their first Korean Series.

The Doosan Bears will be led by their vaunted starting rotation in their quest for a second consecutive Korean Series baseball championship. From left to right are Dustin Nippert, Yoo Hee-kwan, Michael Bowden and Chang Won-jun. (Yonhap)

The Bears topped the regular season standings handily with a single-season record of 93 wins, along with 50 losses and one tie.

The Dinos were nine games behind at 83-58-3. The Bears also won the season series 9-7.

This is their first clash in the Korean Series. They met in the second round last year, when the Bears won in five games.

On paper, the Bears have been as complete a club as there has been in the KBO. They became the first club to send out four 15-game winners, with Dustin Nippert (22), Michael Bowden (18), Yoo Hee-kwan (15) and Chang Won-jun (15).

Nippert (2.95), Chang (3.32) and Bowden (3.80) also finished first, second and sixth in ERA. No club got more innings out of their rotation than the 822 innings logged by the Bears' starters.

On offense, seven regulars batted over .300, and five hit at least 20 home runs, led by Kim Jae-hwan's 37.

They ranked first in team ERA (4.45), team batting average (.298), home runs (183), runs scored (935), on-base percentage (.378) and slugging percentage (.473). And if that wasn't enough, the Bears have excellent defense up the middle, with Yang Eui-ji, the league's best two-way catcher, behind the plate and shortstop Kim Jae-ho and second baseman Oh Jae-won forming the top-rated keystone combo.

The Dinos were right behind the Bears in team ERA, and had the best bullpen ERA with 4.15. They scored the second-most runs and hit the fourth-most home runs.

If the Bears bring a balanced attack from top to bottom, the Dino's offense is driven by the meat of their order.

Na Sung-bum, Eric Thames, Lee Ho-jun and Park Sok-min combined for 115 of the team's 169 home runs. The entire KT Wiz lineup hit 116. These four sluggers also knocked in 425 runs, led by Thames' 121.

Thames, who also hit 40 homers, started out his postseason batting 0-for-7, broke out for a home run in Game 4 of the previous series against the Twins on Tuesday. Park hit two home runs in four games to be voted the series MVP. Na had been held to 1-for-16 before getting two straight singles Tuesday.

If the offense is a wash, rotation depth may prove to be the difference.

The Bears can roll with their four starters, and barring injuries, manager Kim Tae-hyung won't be forced to start any one of them on short rest during the series.

The Dinos, though, ran a three-man rotation against the Twins with Eric Hacker, Zach Stewart and Jang Hyun-sik. Hacker threw two quality starts, the second coming on three days' rest in Game 4, and Stewart held the Twins scoreless in seven innings in Game 2. Jang, with five regular season starts in his career, bombed in Game 3, walking five in one-plus inning of work.

NC Dions third baseman Park Sok-min (L) and first baseman Eric Thames celebrate their victory over the LG Twins in the Korea Baseball Organization postseason game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Korea, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Yonhap)

NC manager Kim Kyung-moon said he can't afford to rely on three starters in the best-of-seven Korean Series. Jang may remain in the rotation by default, and it's anybody's guess who will be the fourth starter.

One candidate, right-hander Lee Jae-hak, will not be on the Korean Series roster. He has been under investigation for an alleged connection to match fixing, and police said they'd announce their findings after the Korean Series.

The Dinos, who have claimed Lee's innocence, had been hoping police would clear the pitcher of any wrongdoing before the start of the Korean Series, so they could place him on the staff. Lee was not part of the second round series.

And no matter who fills the fourth starter spot, the Dinos' rotation will still be top heavy.

The bullpen may be the Bears' only Achilles' heel and one of the Dinos' major strengths.

The Bears' bullpen ERA (5.08) is nearly a full run worse than that of the Dinos, and the Bears' relievers threw the fewest innings in the league, 465 2/3 innings, thanks in large part to their durable starters.

The Bears will be hoping their starters can go at least seven innings so that their shaky middle relief won't be exposed.

The Dinos, though, can bring in one fireballer after another from their relief corps, and they may have an edge in a war of attrition on a bullpen day.

Head-to-head, the Bears had a 4.11 ERA against the Dinos in 16 regular season meetings, while the Dinos had a 4.86 ERA.

The Dinos batted .245 against the Bears while hitting 17 home runs and scoring 70 times. The Bears scored 80 runs while hitting .258 and 18 home runs in their meetings with the Dinos.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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