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By Yoo Jee-ho
CHANGWON, South Korea, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- The Doosan Bears capped off a dominant Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season with the sweep of the league championship series on Wednesday.
The Bears beat the NC Dinos 8-1 Wednesday to clinch their second straight Korean Series title at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
The Bears outscored the Dinos 20-2 and the series was perhaps even more lopsided than the score suggests.
The champions completely dismantled the opponents and won every battle conceivable in baseball, be it starting pitching, hitting, defense or baserunning.
All four starters -- Dustin Nippert, Chang Won-jun, Michael Bowden and Yoo Hee-kwan -- pitched into the sixth inning. The offense drove in runners when they had to with big innings -- breaking a 1-1 dead lock with a four-run eighth to take Game 2 by 5-1, giving themselves some breathing room with a four-run ninth en route to a 6-0 win in Game 3, and tacking on four runs in the top ninth to put Game 4 out of reach.
All year long, the Bears certainly benefited from their three foreign players, with starters Dustin Nippert and Michael Bowden combining for 40 wins in the KBO's deepest rotation, and infielder/designated hitter Nick Evans contributing 24 home runs, 81 RBIs and a .308/.410/.565 line on the offense.
But at the core of this club is a handful of homegrown stars who are talented enough to win back-to-back titles and young enough to be around for a few more championships down the road.
They have a strong foundation up the middle on defense. Catcher Yang Eui-ji, who was voted the Korean Series MVP, is the KBO's best all-around catcher, a great game caller with 20-homer power. Shortstop Kim Jae-ho and second baseman Oh Jae-won form a highly-rated keystone combo. They are all between 29 and 31 years of age.
Their starting outfielders during the series, Kim Jae-hwan, Park Kun-woo and Min Byung-hun, bring different assets to the table. Kim, a converted catcher, has developed into one of the KBO's premier sluggers, belting 37 home runs during the regular season and two more in the Korean Series. Park also flashed power with career highs of 20 homers and 83 RBIs as the Bears' primary leadoff man, and has improved his defense. Min is an all-around veteran, a career .298 hitter who can cover a lot of ground.
No one in that group is over 30.
In the regular season, they had seven everyday players bat over .300 and five hit at least 20 home runs. There were no glaring holes up or down the lineup.
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).
With an in-prime core and manager Kim Tae-hyung under contract through 2019, the Bears may well have started a dynasty with the 2016 title.
Kim and the losing manager, Kim Kyung-moon, were catching teammates for the Bears in the 1990s and went head-to-head for the second straight postseason. The Bears beat the Dinos in the second round last year.
In his press conference, Kim Tae-hyung sent a teary thank-you note to Kim Kyung-moon, who actually managed the Bears to three runner-up finishes in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
"Kim Kyung-moon laid the foundation for this franchise, and I've been able to enjoy success because of that," Kim Tae-hyung said, fighting back tears. "I learned so much from him."
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