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Baseball regular season ends with dominant force at top, pretenders in mix

All Headlines 09:45 October 14, 2018

SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- The 2018 regular season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) will wrap up Sunday, with all postseason berths locked up and one inconsequential game left on the calendar.

The Doosan Bears ran the table from start to finish and clinched the best regular season record during the final week of September, with a dozen games to spare. They climbed to the top of the standings on April 7 and never relinquished the spot the rest of the way.

At 92-51, the Bears hold a 14-game lead over the second-place SK Wyverns, prior to their regular season finale against the Lotte Giants later Sunday.

Members of the Doosan Bears pose behind the trophy for the best regular season record in the Korea Baseball Organization during a ceremony prior to their home game against the KT Wiz at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 13, 2018. (Yonhap)

That game could have had postseason implications, as the Giants were battling the Kia Tigers for the fifth and the final postseason berth down the stretch. But the Tigers clinched that spot by defeating the Giants 6-4 on Friday, which rendered Sunday's game meaningless.

The Bears have earned a bye to the Korean Series, which will begin Nov. 4, and will pursue their third championship in four seasons. They won it all in 2015 and 2016, before losing to the Tigers in the Korean Series in five games last year.

Their high-octane offense led the KBO with a .310 batting average and 939 runs scored. The feared lineup features Kim Jae-hwan, the league's home run king with 44 dingers and 133 RBIs.

On the mound, two new import pitchers, Josh Lindblom and Seth Frankoff, combined to go 33-7, and Lindblom led the KBO with a 2.88 ERA. He was the only pitcher in the league with a sub-3.00 ERA. Homegrown right-hander Lee Yong-chan submitted a 15-3 season in his first year as a starter and led all South Korean pitchers with a 3.63 ERA.

In this file photo from Sept. 27, 2018, Jared Hoying of the Hanwha Eagles rounds the bases after launching his 30th home run of the Korea Baseball Organization regular season in the bottom of the second inning against the Doosan Bears at Hanhwa Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Wyverns (78-65-1, wins-losses-ties), under American manager Trey Hillman, finished in second place and will move directly to the penultimate round of the playoffs. Hillman announced Saturday that he will not return to the club next year, citing family reasons, and the Wyverns will be motivated to send off their two-year skipper with a championship.

The Wyverns have topped the KBO in home runs in two straight seasons, following last year's league-record total of 234, with 233 this year.

The Hanwha Eagles (77-67) are back in the postseason for the first time since 2007, with first-year skipper Han Yong-duk righting the ship that had been sinking for the past few years.

First-year outfielder Jared Hoying, a one-time major leaguer, delivered 30 home runs and 110 RBIs, while setting a new KBO single-season record with 47 doubles.

Lacking a front-end starter, the Eagles relied heavily on their relievers, and they responded with a KBO-best 4.24 bullpen ERA.

The Eagles were nearly caught by the Nexen Heroes (75-69), which ended up two games back in fourth place.

They will be back playing meaningful games in October after missing out on the playoffs last year. For 2018, they welcomed back slugger Park Byung-ho, a two-time regular season MVP for the Heroes who had a brief and mostly unsuccessful stint with the Minnesota Twins. Park posted his typical, video game-like numbers across the board, with 43 home runs in just 113 games and a line of .345/.457/.718.

Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes (L) hits a three-run home run against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sept. 18, 2018, in this photo provided by the Heroes. (Yonhap)

The Heroes will host the Tigers, the defending champs who finished in fifth place this regular season, in Tuesday's wild-card game.

The Tigers were in eighth place on Sept. 4 but went 19-15 since to snatch the final postseason spot. But they will be at a major disadvantage in the wild-card game.

The Heroes will get two cracks at winning one game to advance to the next round. If they win Tuesday's game, they will then face the Eagles in the first round starting Friday.

But the Tigers will have to beat the Heroes on back-to-back days on the road to move on to the next stage.

In the bottom half of the standings, the NC Dinos, a playoff contestant in each of the past four years, finished in last place for the first time in their six-year history with a 58-85-1 mark.

The dismal season saw the resignation of manager Kim Kyung-moon, the only skipper the Dinos ever had up to that point. General manager Yoo Young-joon came down from the front office to lead the charge in the interim capacity for the final 85 games.

The KT Wiz (59-82-3) finally moved out of the league cellar in their fourth season, and the 59 wins are also a franchise record. KT's rookie sensation Kang Baek-ho, a two-way star in high school who focused on hitting as a pro, also gave fans much to cheer about. The 19-year-old led all freshmen with 29 home runs and 84 RBIs.

The LG Twins and the Lotte Giants, two of the KBO's most popular teams attendance-wise, came up short in their bids for the postseason.

In this file photo from Aug. 1, 2018, players for the LG Twins leave the field at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul after losing to the Doosan Bears 14-8 in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game. (Yonhap)

The Twins, ranked as high as second in the middle of June, finished in eighth (68-75-1). They were 12-16 in their final 28 games, and going just 1-15 in the season series against the Bears killed their playoff hopes.

After riding an outstanding second-half run to the postseason in 2017, the Giants were trying to duplicate that in 2018. But losing both games of a double header against the Wiz last Wednesday was the knockout punch, and they will finish in seventh place, regardless of the result in the finale versus the Bears.

The Samsung Lions (68-72-4) put together their best season since 2015 to finish in sixth place. They ended up in ninth in each of the past two years, and the days of four straight championships from 2011 to 2014 are now a distant memory.

The Lions finished strong and posted the third-best record since the All-Star break at 28-23-2.

League-wide, offense continued to dominate pitching in 2018. The KBO saw a record five 40-homer sluggers this year. The Bears' Kim Jae-hwan earned his first home run title with 44, followed by 43 apiece from Park Byung-ho of the Heroes, Jamie Romak of the Wyverns and Mel Rojas Jr. of the Wiz. Romak's teammate, Han Dong-min, ranked fifth with 41.

There were also 11 players with 30 or more home runs, the second most in a season after a dozen 30-homer sluggers in 1999.

On the mound, only five starters managed to keep their ERA below 4.00 this year, compared with 10 such pitchers from 2017.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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