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NC Dinos' accelerated rebuilding continues as baseball title hopes fall short again

All Headlines 19:12 October 21, 2017

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- Though their South Korean baseball hopes fell short once again, the NC Dinos at least got a glimpse into what should be a bright future.

The Dinos bowed out to the Doosan Bears in four games in the best-of-five second round series in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason. The 14-5 loss on Saturday at Masan Stadium, the Dinos' home in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, sealed their fate.

This was the Dinos' fourth consecutive postseason appearance. They were on the outside looking in during their inaugural KBO season in 2013, but have made every postseason since then. They even reached the Korean Series last year, only to be swept by the Doosan Bears.

And the Bears had the Dinos' numbers again this year, winning three straight games in convincing fashion after losing the opener.

Throughout the season, the Dinos were a unique club in that they were giving young players a chance to play in favor of veterans and were still winning at an impressive rate.

Members of the NC Dinos take a bow before their home fans at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, after losing to the Doosan Bears 14-5 in Game 4 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series on Oct. 21, 2017. The loss eliminated the Dinos from the postseason. (Yonhap)

They ranked second in the league at the break before fading the rest of the way to finish fourth overall. But they won the wild card game over the SK Wyverns and then knocked out the favored Lotte Giants in five games in the opening round. Their pitching staff, running on fumes, just ran into a buzzsaw that was the Bears' offense, which scored 50 runs and hit 12 home runs in four games.

Though the young pitchers took a beating in this series, the likes of Jang Hyun-sik and Lee Min-ho still show flashes of brilliance that could make them important pieces for this ball club.

Jang, 22, moved into the rotation after starting the season in the bullpen, and the right-hander had a breakout postseason game against the Giants, holding them to a run in seven innings in Game 2 of the first round series.

Right-handed reliever Lee Min-ho, 24, enjoyed a six-game scoreless streak during this postseason before allowing three runs in two innings and taking the loss on Saturday. He was otherwise a steady workhorse in a beat-up bullpen against the Bears.

On offense, outfielder Kwon Hee-dong, 26, and infielder Mo Chang-min, 32, both enjoyed breakout campaigns by setting career-highs in major offensive categories, and continued their success into the postseason. Though they're no longer young pups, they proved that they can be more than serviceable pieces on a contender if given the opportunity.

Lee Min-ho of the NC Dinos throws a pitch against the Doosan Bears in the top of the fourth inning in Game 4 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, on Oct. 21, 2017. (Yonhap)

Two center fielders, Kim Jun-wan and Kim Seong-uk, took turns in making spectacular defensive plays and hitting key home runs.

The Dinos will need more from their homegrown hurlers, for they've been heavily reliant on import arms in recent years, without much depth beyond their top two starters.

Last year, it was right-handers Eric Hacker and Zach Stewart. This year, Hacker returned for his fifth KBO season and the Dinos replaced Stewart with Jeff Manship, who pitched in last year's World Series for the Cleveland Indians.

Hacker and Manship each won 12 games, while missing some action with injuries. Manship, in particular, struggled mightily in the second half and it continued into the postseason. Once he was relegated to the bullpen against the Bears, the Dinos didn't have a reliable No. 2 starter behind Hacker. And when Hacker himself got knocked around to lose Game 3 and put the Dinos on the brink, the best manager Kim Kyung-moon could do was to summon second-year right-hander Jung Su-min in an elimination game on Saturday.

The lack of starting depth added pressure on the bullpen, and manager Kim lamented that his relievers were just running on fumes by the time Game 4 rolled around on Saturday.

Kim, on the other hand, said he did see a silver lining from this year's postseason exit.

"Even though our season ended today, I saw a lot of positive things for the future," Kim said. "So we'll chase a championship again next year. By giving a lot of young players a chance to play, I was able to draw a big picture for 2018."

Mo Chang-min of the NC Dinos (L) bumps fists with his first base coach Jeon Jun-ho after an RBI single against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 4 of their Korea Baseball Organization postseason series at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, on Oct. 21, 2017. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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