(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 7-8, 19-20)
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- They may share the same stadium in the South Korean baseball league, but the term "rivalry" doesn't accurately describe the state of affairs between the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins, with one enjoying far more recent success than the other.
For the first time in seven years, the co-tenants of Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul will clash in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason. This time, it will be in the first round, a best-of-three set that will be played at Jamsil in its entirety even if it goes the distance.
The Bears will be the home team for Game 1 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Game 2 at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Game 3, if necessary, will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, with the Twins batting last as the home team.
Back in 2013, the Bears knocked off the Twins in four games in the best-of-five second round.
The Bears advanced directly to the first round this year by virtue of finishing the regular season in third place. The Twins dropped to fourth place on their final day of the season last Friday, and had to beat the fifth-seed Kiwoom Heroes 4-3 in 13 innings to take the Wild Card and set up a duel against the Bears.
The Bears won the season series 9-6-1 (wins-losses-ties). Just two years ago, the Bears famously took the season series 15-1 -- or, put another way, the Twins infamously lost the season series 1-15. It was the most lopsided head-to-head record in the KBO that year.
Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyoung said his team's strong recent history against the Twins should come in handy this week.
"I think our players will always have that confidence," Kim said during his pre-series media availability at Jamsil on Tuesday. "We've had some great moments against LG in recent years, and I think they can only help us in the postseason."
In recent seasons, the Bears have been a vastly more successful club, having played in every Korean Series since 2015 and winning it all in 2015, 2016 and 2019. The Twins, though, won their last title in 1994 and haven't even reached the Korean Series since 2002.
The Bears were the best team in the KBO in October, compiling a 16-7 record and winning their final four games.
Their pitching staff led all teams with a 2.95 ERA and 197 strikeouts in October. During that month, no team allowed fewer baserunners -- 1.25 in walks and hits per innings pitched -- and the Bears allowed an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .642, the lowest in the KBO by 75 points.
Their rotation features a two-headed monster, with right-handers Chris Flexen and Raul Alcantara combining to go 10-0 with 83 strikeouts in 72 innings last month. The duo didn't give up any home runs.
Flexen, in his first KBO season, missed nearly two months of action in the summer with injury, and came back with a vengeance in October. He went 4-0 with a league-low 0.85 ERA in five October starts. He struck out 42 in just 31 2/3 innings to also lead the league in October. Flexen last pitched last Tuesday and will start Wednesday's Game 1.
Flexen faced the Twins once, on May 7 for his first KBO start, and he won that game by allowing three runs in six innings.
Alcantara was the only 20-game winner in the regular season. He was 6-0 in six October starts and had a 1.34 ERA across 40 1/3 innings. Alcantara lost his Opening Day start on May 5 and then went 20-1 over his next 30 starts. Alcantara's last loss came on Aug. 26. He won his final regular season start last Friday to get to win No. 20 and is expected to start Thursday's Game 2 on full rest.
The Twins went 13-9-1 for the second-highest winning percentage in October, but dropping the last two games, one each against the two worst clubs in the league, cost them the No. 2 seed. They dropped into the Wild Card round versus the fifth-seed Kiwoom Heroes. The Twins prevailed 4-3 on Monday, thanks to a game-winning hit by unheralded utility man Shin Min-jae in the bottom of the 13th. They used six relievers after starter Casey Kelly, with closer Go Woo-suk needing 40 pitches to get five outs.
The 19-year-old rookie Lee Min-ho will get the Game 1 nod Wednesday. He was 4-4 with a 3.69 ERA in 20 games. He made four appearances -- two in relief -- against the Bears and went 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA across 14 innings. In two bullpen outings, Lee shut down the Bears for four innings. He gave up two runs in five innings in each of his two starts against them.
The Twins carefully monitored Lee's workload all season, often giving him more than a week of rest between starts. He made a couple of relief appearances in the final stretch and recorded a 1.66 ERA in five October games.
Only two other rookies have won a KBO postseason start straight out of high school.
Doosan manager Kim said even though the pitching matchup may favor his team on paper, his hitters shouldn't take the rookie Twins starter lightly.
"He's getting this starting assignment for a reason. He's earned this opportunity to pitch in a big game," Kim said. "People may say we have the edge in pitching with Alcantara and Flexen, but they don't have any big game experience (in the KBO). We're going to need to score some runs, too."
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