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Doosan Bears chasing 3rd title in 4 years in S. Korean baseball

All Headlines 11:03 November 03, 2018

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- The Doosan Bears will be going for their third South Korean baseball title in four years when the league championship series starts Sunday.

The Bears, who posted the best regular season record in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), will host the SK Wyverns in Game 1 of the Korean Series at 2 p.m. Sunday.

It will be a rematch of the 2007 and 2008 Korean Series. The Wyverns won both.

The Bears ran away with the pennant this year with a record of 93-51. They were 14.5 games ahead of the second-place Wyverns. The Bears climbed to the top on April 7 and briefly shared the top spot with the Wyverns on April 28. The Bears had no company at the top the rest of the way and clinched the best record on Sept. 25, with a dozen games to spare. The Bears and the Wyverns split the season series, 8-8.

In this file photo from Oct. 13, 2018, 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. (Yonhap)

The Bears won it all in 2015 and 2016 and then lost to the Kia Tigers in the Korean Series in 2017. The Wyverns had a run of six consecutive Korean Series appearances from 2007 to 2012 and went all the way in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

This year, the Bears seem to be a lock to return to the top.

This was as complete a team as there has been in the KBO in recent years. Their high-octane offense led the KBO with a .309 batting average and 944 runs scored. The feared lineup features Kim Jae-hwan, the league's home run king with 44 dingers and RBI leader with 133 runs knocked in.

They produced four 20-homer sluggers, and eight players drove in at least 75 runs. Seven regulars batted .300 or better. They also got a late-season reinforcement in outfielder Jung Soo-bin, who finished his mandatory military service and batted .367 in 26 games starting in early September.

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.

Beyond all the gaudy stats, the biggest advantage for the Bears may be the fact that they're well rested, while the Wyverns are banged up.

Kim Kang-min of the SK Wyverns celebrates his RBI double against the Nexen Heroes in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 5 of the second round playoff series in the Korea Baseball Organization at SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, on Nov. 2, 2018. (Yonhap)

By virtue of posting the best regular season record, the Bears earned a bye directly to the Korean Series. They haven't played since their final regular season game on Oct. 14.

But for the Wyverns, it's going to be a quick turnaround, having eliminated the Nexen Heroes in the previous series on Friday after a crazy Game 5 victory. The game ended at 11:24.

The Wyverns won the first two games and then dropped the next two. In the deciding game Friday, the Wyverns held a 9-4 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth, only to see the Heroes rally with five runs and force extra innings.

The Heroes went ahead with a run in the top of the 10th, but the Wyverns clinched the series in the bottom of the 10th thanks to back-to-back solo home runs by Kim Kang-min and Han Dong-min.

Kim was voted the series MVP after batting .429 with three homers and six RBIs. After being held to 1-for-15 in the first three games, Han homered in each of his next two games, certainly an encouraging development for a team that lives by its long balls.

In this file photo from Sept. 21, 2018, Josh Lindblom of the Doosan Bears throws a pitch against the LG Twins in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Han and Jamie Romak, who also homered on Friday, were two 40-homer men for the Wyverns during the regular season. The Wyverns led the KBO with 233 regular season homers and launched 13 in five games against the Heroes -- including 10 at their home stadium, SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul.

The Bears' home is the cavernous Jamsil Stadium in the capital city, and it yielded 1.86 homers per game during the regular season, the fewest in the league. SK Happy Dream Park saw 3.28 homers per game, by far the most in the KBO.

The Wyverns' rotation is in shambles after that hard-fought five-game set. Staff ace Kim Kwang-hyun pitched in both Games 1 and 5 and was charged with eight earned runs in 11 2/3 innings combined.

Merrill Kelly, who started Game 2 versus Nexen, would have been a logical choice as the opening game starter in the Korean Series on six days' rest. But Kelly pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief in Friday's Game 5, and won't likely be available until Game 3 in the Korean Series on Wednesday at the earliest.

In this file photo from May 31, 2018, Jamie Romak of the SK Wyverns (R) tags out Oh Jae-won of the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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