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Doosan Bears consensus pick to win 3rd straight KBO title

All Headlines 06:00 March 28, 2017

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- It's not often that sports pundits can all agree on their predictions for a new baseball season, but an exception can be made for the 2017 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season.

The Doosan Bears, winners of the past two titles, are favored to repeat as the champions again in 2017.

They have retained the key members of last season's championship team, including reigning KBO MVP Dustin Nippert, who won a league-best 22 games, and No. 2 starter Michael Bowden, who contributed 18 wins and a no-hitter in his first KBO season.

The Bears' lineup led the KBO with a .298 batting average, 935 runs and 183 home runs, and the mashers are back for another run at the title.

The real question is just who will stop the Bears in their tracks.

Michael Bowden of the Doosan Bears makes a pitch against the SK Wyverns in their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Incheon SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon on March 22, 2017. (Yonhap)

Lee Jong-yeol, analyst for cable station SBS Sports, said the LG Twins may give the Bears a run for their money.

The Twins rode a second-half surge to the postseason last year. Over the winter, they gave veteran left-hander Cha Woo-chan a four-year deal worth 9.5 billion won (US$8.5 million), the largest contract ever handed to a free agent pitcher. Cha bolsters a rotation that includes work horses from last season: David Huff, Henry Sosa and Ryu Jae-kuk, all with U.S. minor league experience.

"They have a strong rotation, and a solid bullpen with some young, lively arms," Lee said. "I think their young hitters will also take a big step forward after getting the taste of postseason last year."

Kim Sun-woo, former major league pitcher doing commentary for MBC Sports Plus, said the Kia Tigers will be a team to watch. The Tigers were also busy this past offseason, acquiring outfielder Choi Hyoung-woo, the reigning batting champion, on a four-year, 10 billion won free agent contract, and signing former major league outfielder Roger Bernadina.

Park Yong-taik of the LG Twins lines a single against the Samsung Lions in their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on March 16, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I think Choi Hyoung-woo will add substantial power to the lineup," Kim said of the slugger who has averaged 31 homers a season over the past four years. "Their defense will be better than last year, and their foreign players also did well in the preseason."

Of the five non-playoff teams from a year ago, the Hanwha Eagles could end their playoff drought at nine years if their big-name imports can live up to expectations.

The Eagles retained former major league catcher Wilin Rosario for a second year, and newly brought in two ex-big league starters, Alexi Ogando and Carlos Villanueva. The Eagles spent a combined $4.8 million on those three players.

"On paper, they have the talent to finish among the top five," Lee Jong-yeol said. "They have a great one-two punch at the top of the rotation, backed by solid homegrown arms."

While other teams were busy signing new players, the SK Wyverns made a change at the top, bringing in former Kansas City Royals skipper Trey Hillman as their new manager.

Hillman, who has also managed in Japan, has blended in nicely, said KBSN Sports analyst Cho Sung-hwan.

"Hillman has already formed good relationships with his players, and they apparently like him very much," Cho added.

The Wyverns haven't been over .500 in any season since 2012.

In this photo provided by the Hanwha Eagles, Lee Dong-hoon of the Eagles (L) steals home against the Kia Tigers in their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Hanwha Life Insurance Eagles Park in Daejeon on March 24, 2017. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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