By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- With four of the five playoff berths already determined in South Korean baseball, two clubs are vying for that final spot as the regular season enters the stretch drive.
The Doosan Bears clinched the best regular season record in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) last week. And three clubs below them, the SK Wyverns, the Hanwha Eagles and the Nexen Heroes, have also punched their tickets to the postseason -- though their positions in the standings could change before the end of the regular season on Oct. 13.
The real race is for the fifth and the wild card spot -- something no club seemed especially intent on winning until recently.
The defending champions Kia Tigers are currently in fifth at 66-67, 2.5 games ahead of the Samsung Lions at 65-71-4 (wins-losses-ties). The Tigers went 15-8 in September, the second best record that month behind the Bears, while the Lions went 11-12-1.
And the Lotte Giants (61-69-2) just may have a better shot at catching the Tigers, even though they're in seventh place and trailing the Tigers by 3.5 games.
The Giants, who have been up and down all year, have caught fire at the right time, with an 8-2 record over their past 10 games. They have 12 games remaining, more than any other club in the 10-team league, while the Tigers have 11 to go. The Lions only have four games left.
The LG Twins, who rose to second place in mid June, have fallen to eighth place, four games behind the Tigers with four to play. A loss in the next game will knock the Twins out of the postseason picture.
And as fate would have it, the Tigers and the Giants will face each other four times next week. They have one game scheduled at the Giants' home at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Oct. 9, and then close out the regular season with a three-game series starting on Oct. 11 at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of the capital.
Having enough games left to stay ahead or make up ground can be a double-edged sword for both the Tigers and the Giants, given the demanding traveling schedule over the next two weeks.
With clubs now playing make-up games, the Tigers and the Giants have to play six straight days starting Tuesday. The Lions only have two games this week and the Twins have three.
The Tigers play a night game at home on Tuesday and then travel southeast to Daegu for a day game against the Lions. Then they come up north to Incheon, just west of Seoul, for a three-game series against the Wyverns. They'll wrap up the busy stretch with a tilt against the Bears in the capital city.
The Giants will open their week in Incheon, followed by two games against the Eagles in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul. They go home for two days and will host the Bears on Friday and the Eagles the next day. Then it's a short hop over to Changwon to take on the NC Dinos on Sunday.
The Giants have a double-header against the KT Wiz scheduled on Oct. 10, a day before the start of the crucial three-game series against the Tigers.
And save for the Bears, most of these opponents still have a lot left to play for, meaning there won't be any easy game for the Tigers and the Giants.
The Wyverns and the Eagles will try to lock down the second seed, which will send them directly to the penultimate stage of the postseason. The two bottom feeders, the Wiz (54-79-3) and the Dinos (56-82-1), will try to stay out of the league cellar, if only for some measure of pride.
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