By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- The St. Louis Cardinals' South Korean left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun will make his big league postseason debut in the team's very first game of the campaign.
St. Louis manager Mike Shildt announced Monday (U.S. local time) that Kim will start in Game 1 of the National League (NL) wild-card series against the San Diego Padres. The first pitch at Petco Park in San Diego is 2 p.m. Wednesday (local time), and 6 a.m. Thursday in South Korea.
The Padres finished as the fourth seed and will host the fifth-seeded Cardinals in every game of the series at Petco Park.
Starting Game 1 of a playoff series can both be a burden and a privilege for someone as unproven as Kim. On the other hand, Kim isn't your ordinary rookie, either.
He put in 13 years with the SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), winning a regular season MVP and four Korean Series championships in the process. He has his share of big game experience, having recorded saves to close out two of the four title runs in 2010 and 2018.
In his first major league regular season, Kim went 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA in eight appearances, seven of them starts. Kim began the season as the closer but moved into the rotation in mid-August. As a starter, Kim pitched 24 consecutive innings without surrendering an earned run and had a 1.42 ERA in 38 innings from the rotation.
Kim will be pitching on five days' rest. In his final regular season start last Thursday, Kim held the Milwaukee Brewers to a run on five hits in five innings.
Two established big league starters, Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright, had been expected to pitch in the first two games for the Cardinals. Flaherty last started Friday, and he would have had four days' rest if he had been named the Game 1 starter. Instead, he'll go Game 3, if necessary. Wainwright's final regular season outing came Saturday, and he will follow Kim for Game 2 on four days' rest.
But that also meant if the series were to go to a deciding Game 3, the Cardinals would need to lean on Kim to save their season in his first career postseason start. As experienced as Kim is in the KBO, the Cardinals apparently weren't comfortable putting Kim in that win-or-go home situation.
During the truncated, 60-game season, clubs only played opponents within their own division and the corresponding division in the other league. The Cardinals, based in the NL Central, and the Padres, coming out of the NL West, didn't face each other during the regular season.
Taking on the Padres might have dented Kim's ERA: The Padres ranked third in the NL in both runs (325) and home runs (95), while finishing fourth with a .798 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
Against left-handers, the Padres had 27 homers to tie for second most in the league. Their .763 OPS against southpaws put them in eighth.
Their lineup is led by three mashers in the middle: four-time All-Star Manny Machado, veteran slugger Wil Myers and MVP candidate Fernando Tatis Jr., one of the most dynamic young players in the game today.
Myers led the clubs with a .959 OPS and Machado drove in the most runs with 47. Tatis Jr. hit the most homers with 17 and led the Padres with 11 steals. He also led baseball with 102 hard-hit balls, defined as batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph.
Kim mostly kept the ball in the park during the regular season, allowing three homers in 39 innings. Kim will not blow away hitters with dominant stuff -- he had 24 strikeouts and 12 walks -- but has used his two most-trusted pitches, a four-seam fastball and slider, to great effects. Kim has thrown those two pitches almost 80 percent of the time and has changed speeds to keep hitters off balance.
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