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2 S. Korean players looking to make impact on MLB postseason

All News 10:42 October 05, 2021

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- Two South Korean players will seek to make their presence felt in major league playoffs starting this week, though the journey may only last a game for one of them.

The Tampa Bay Rays posted the best regular season record in the American League (AL) at 100-62. They were the World Series runners-up to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, while their first baseman Choi Ji-man became the first South Korean position player to appear in the World Series. Despite a massive roster turnover from a year ago, the Rays earned their third straight trip to the postseason and will look to do one better than 2020.

In this Associated Press photo, Tampa Bay Rays' first baseman Choi Ji-man flips the ball to himself after catching a fly ball against the New York Yankees during the bottom of the seventh inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Yankee Stadium in New York on Oct. 3, 2021. (Yonhap)

In the AL Division Series (ALDS), the Rays will face the winner of the Wild Card Game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. That win-or-go-home game is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. Tuesday in Boston, while the best-of-five ALDS will begin Thursday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Choi had a memorable run to the World Series last year, thanks to timely hits and impressive splits at the first base bag that were tailor-made for GIFs on social media.

This year, Choi was limited to 83 regular season games because of knee, groin and hamstring injuries. His batting line of .229/.348/.411 was slightly below his career average, and he provided 11 home runs, 14 doubles and 45 RBIs.

The Rays were 11-8 against both the Yankees and the Red Sox in their season series.

Choi struggled against both clubs: He batted 4-for-22 with 12 strikeouts against the Yankees, and 4-for-30 with 11 strikeouts against the Red Sox. Choi, who bats left-handed, usually sits against left-handed starters.

Choi, on the other hand, has famously dominated Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. Choi has batted 8-for-14 with three home runs, three doubles and eight RBIs against the right-hander in their regular season meetings. Choi homered off Cole during last year's ALDS too.

In this Associated Press file photo from Sept. 29, 2021, Choi Ji-man (L) and Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 7-0 victory over the Houston Astros in a Major League Baseball regular season game at Minute Maid Park in Houston. (Yonhap)

The St. Louis Cardinals put together an incredible 17-game winning streak in September to snatch the second Wild Card spot in the National League (NL). Their South Korean left-hander, Kim Kwang-hyun, was moved from the rotation to the bullpen along the way, and he overcame some shaky moments early into his bullpen tenure to finish the season with three consecutive scoreless outings.

As a starter, Kim was 6-7 with a 3.63 ERA. In six relief appearances, Kim went 1-0 and had a save, along with a 1.80 ERA.

The Cardinals have an unenviable task of taking on the defending champions Dodgers in the do-or-die NL Wild Card Game at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. It will be 9 a.m. Thursday in South Korea.

The Dodgers had the second best record in the majors at 106-56 but still finished one game behind the San Francisco Giants for the NL West title.

In this Getty Images photo, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Chicago Cubs in the top of the seventh inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Oct. 2, 2021. (Yonhap)

The Cardinals went 3-4 versus the Dodgers during the regular season and got outscored 42-20.

Kim's role in the postseason bullpen is unclear, as the Cardinals have no shortage of effective relief options. Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera, Luis Garcia and Kodi Whitley all pitched brilliantly down the stretch. As a converted starter, Kim can eat up multiple innings for the Cardinals should things go awry in the early going.

Kim made one relief appearance against the Dodgers in the regular season, allowing two runs in 1 1/3 innings on Sept. 7.

The Cardinals will have ageless wonder Adam Wainwright on the hill to start the one-and-done game. The 40-year-old right-hander led the club with 17 wins, a 3.05 ERA and 206 1/3 innings pitched -- his best full-season numbers across the board since 2014.

The Dodgers will counter with the three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Following a midseason trade from the Washington Nationals, Scherzer went 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts for the Dodgers.

In this Associated Press file photo from Sept. 28, 2021, Kim Kwang-hyun (R) and Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their 6-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in a Major League Baseball regular season game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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