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Two-time defending baseball champs get little from vaunted rotation

All Headlines 07:43 October 19, 2017

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- This isn't exactly how the Doosan Bears envisioned their South Korean baseball title defense would go in October.

The Bears, two-time defending champs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), are now tied with the NC Dinos at one game apiece in the best-of-five second round series in the ongoing postseason. After dropping the opener 13-5, they pulled out a 17-7 win in Game 2 on Wednesday.

And they've come this far in spite of their starting pitching, not because of it.

Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears fixes his cap in the top of the fourth inning against the NC Dinos in Game 1 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series on Oct. 17, 2017, at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Bears won last year's title on the strength of their superb starting pitching. They became the first club to boast four 15-game winners in the regular season, and collectively, Dustin Nippert, Michael Bowden, Chang Won-jun and Yoo Hee-kwan were called the "Fantastic Four."

And in sweeping these same Dinos in the Korean Series, all four starters pitched excellent games, as they gave up only one earned run in 29 1/3 innings combined.

But two games into this postseason, it's been a different story.

Nippert got knocked around in Game 1 on Tuesday, as the Bears lost 13-5. He saw his postseason record streak of consecutive scoreless innings snapped at 36 1/3 innings and gave up six runs -- one unearned run -- on eight hits in 5 1/3 frames. One of the hits was a grand slam by Xavier Scruggs.

After the Bears lost the crucial opening game, they needed left-hander Chang Won-jun to stop the bleeding. The man they call Mr. Consistency, who reached double figures in wins for the eighth consecutive regular season, was anything but in Wednesday's Game 2, as he gave up six runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. He only struck out one.

Chang was also touched for three home runs, after giving up just four in 57 1/3 career postseason innings before Wednesday. The offense let him off the hook, or Chang would have suffered only his second loss in 13 postseason appearances.

Now Bowden, an 18-game winner in 2016 who was limited to 17 starts this year due to shoulder problems, faces the tall order of trying to keep the Bears' three-peat bid alive because, despite losing Game 2, the Dinos' bats are very much alive and well.

And NC hitters in particular have been aggressive, swinging for the fences early in the counts. All four of their home runs on Wednesday were hit within two or three pitches in the count.

If the Bears drop Game 3, then they'll turn to soft-tossing left-hander Yoo Hee-kwan, who won't exactly blow by anyone with his fastballs. Yoo ranked last among all qualified starters with an average fastball speed of 128.9 kph. No one else failed to throw fastballs at below 130 kph on average.

Doosan manager admitted he was worried about how the two remaining starters will hold up against the Dinos.

"It's not like I have some solutions to this problem," Kim said. "Just because the first two starters had bad games, it doesn't mean the other starters will also struggle."

Chang Won-jun of the Doosan Bears reacts to an RBI single by Xavier Scruggs of the NC Dinos in the top of the third inning in Game 2 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series on Oct. 18, 2017, at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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