Welcome to our weekly Korean Baseball Organization update here at Pitcher List! While the MLB opened its season last week across the USA, on the other side of the globe the KBO season continues to take shape. (And had fans?!) Outside of the NC Dinos at the top and the SK Wyverns and Hanwha Eagles floundering in the basement, the standings seemingly shift weekly, as the majority of the league still has a real shot at the postseason. In fact, with July almost completed, the other seven teams are separated by a mere seven games total!
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s happened over the last week (July 20-26), starting with the current standings:
News and Notes
We’ll break down which teams have been over/underperforming and which players have surprised us the most momentarily, but let’s start by getting into some news around the league:
- The fans return! This past Friday saw the Korean government give the green light to three of the league’s five stadiums to begin allowing fans to attend. Both Jasmil Baseball Stadium and Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, as well as KT Wiz Park in Suwon, were able to allow up to 10% capacity. As of now, Gwanju-Kia Champions Field and Hanwha Life Eagles Park did not allow any fans to attend, as both of them are further south and in cities with stricter social distancing guidelines. Fans who choose to attend in the stadiums where it is permitted have to adhere to guidelines, such as providing contact information and undergoing mandatory temperature checks upon entry. Having physical fans return is a huge step for the KBO, and their process will be worth monitoring by other sports leagues over the coming weeks.
- The Samsung Lions are reportedly closing in on an agreement with former Chicago White Sox outfielder Daniel Palka, per DKTV’s Daniel Kim. If finalized, Palka will help replace the injury to Tyler Saladino, another former MLB player.
- Last week, we noted an unfortunate injury to Chris Flexen. The Doosan Bears’ pitcher is expected to miss a month after being struck in the foot by a batted ball. His teammate, Raul Alcantara, honored Flexen and fellow injured teammate Lee Yong-chan by wearing their numbers on his hat. While not common in the MLB, it is common to put an injured teammates number on your hat to show solidarity in the KBO.
- Kim Kwang-hyun, a 13-year KBO veteran, recorded an MLB save for the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend. Kim had never previously recorded a save in the regular season while pitching in Korea, though he did record two postseason saves during his time with the SK Wyverns.
- NC Dinos’ Kim Tae-goon had a little fun with a “self-tag” following a ground-out to the pitcher.
- Former MLB infielder Addison Russell apparently really wanted to wear No.5, and when it was already taken upon his joining of the Kiwoom Heroes, he opted to wear… No. 05?
Current League Averages
All metrics have been gathered from Baseball-Reference, KBReport and MyKBO. Links to all resources are listed at the bottom of the article.
Best Team: Kia Tigers
In the dog days of summer, the Kia Tigers are heating up. The Tigers have been steadily climbing in the standings over the past few weeks, and they kept the good times going this past week as they went undefeated across four games. Consecutive rainouts on Thursday and Friday could have slowed their momentum, but instead, the Tigers followed up two wins against the Hanwha Eagles with two more against the Samsung Lions. The streak comes directly after a frustrating 2-4 stretch, where they dropped consecutive series to the same Samsung Lions and Doosan Bears, respectively. The Tigers, now third in the league standings, got dominant pitching this week, highlighted by Drew Gagnon’s start on 7/21 where he shut out the Eagles over 6.2 innings, allowing just one hit. Offensively, Preston Tucker continues to pace the Tigers and is among the KBO league leaders in a number of categories, including homers and RBI.
Worst Team: Hanwha Eagles
It feels cruel that the Eagles find themselves in this section yet again, but they simply made it impossible to name anyone else following a week that saw them go winless. Hanwha now is riding a nine-game losing streak dating back to last week, and after playing to a draw in their make-up game Monday against the SK Wyverns, will aim to try to reverse their skid against the Samsung Lions and LG Twins in the coming week. The Eagles have been very disappointing on offense over the past week, as they averaged fewer than three runs scored per game in their last four matchups. Their loss on July 22 was especially disheartening for Eagles fans, as Kim Min-woo and three relievers combined to allow only five total hits while striking out 10, but Hanwha’s offense was so anemic that they still were still narrowly defeated by a 2-1 score.
Biggest Surprise: KT Wiz
The Wiz have steadily climbed over the past month or so, going from flirting with the basement of the standings to surpassing .500 and being legitimately in contention now. This past week saw a lot of competitive baseball for the Wiz, as they played four games and had all but one of their matchups come down to a one-run game. After winning 10-9 on Tuesday against the LG Twins, the Wiz were rained out the next two days before being defeated by the Dinos 3-2 on Friday. While it would be easy to be frustrated by multiple rainouts and a one-run defeat against the top team in the league, the Wiz bounced back against the Dinos in a big way over the weekend to win on both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday’s win, in particular, ended up being a huge victory, as the Wiz ran into the buzzsaw that is Koo Chang-mo, and after trailing 4-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh, rallied to win 5-4. The Wiz will be facing off in three-game sets this coming week against the Kia Tigers and the SK Wyverns.
Best Performance: Hitters
Kim Hyun-Soo (LG Twins): Kim has been a force all season, but has turned on another gear lately, especially over the past week. The outfielder is riding a nine-game hitting streak dating back to July 15th, and over the past week, Kim has hit .471 (8-for-17). Kim’s week was highlighted by his four hits, including a homer on 7/24 against the Doosan Bears, his former team. For the season, the lefty has moved up the board in a number of offensive statistics, including RBI and OPS, and his excellent .343 batting average is currently good for sixth-best in the league.
Choi Jeon (SK Wyverns): Choi only played in three games this past week, but he certainly made them count, picking up at least one hit in each game while mashing three extra-base hits. The 33-year-old was in the zone on 7/24 against the Hanwha Eagles specifically, when he hit two homers and picked up five RBI as part of his 3-for-3 performance at the dish. Jeong ranks fourth in the KBO in OPS for the season and has been a key cog in the Wyverns’ offense.
Na Sung-bum (NC Dinos): The Dinos’ right fielder had an interesting week at the plate, as he finished the stretch with just four hits, and all four of them going for extra bases. In addition to a couple of walks, Na mashed a double and three homers in his four games over the past week. The power output was a welcome sign for Na, as he had just one extra-base hit over his previous seven games combined prior to 7/21.
Best Performance: Pitchers
William Cuevas (KT Wiz): Cuevas has had a solid, yet unspectacular season overall for the Wiz in 2020, holding a 5-2 record with an ERA of 3.97 through his 11 starts while striking out 57 batters in his 68 innings of work. However, this past week saw Cuevas turn in arguably his best start of the season, as he allowed just one run through seven innings to the vaunted NC Dinos lineup. Cuevas walked just one batter while striking out a season-high nine. After a shaky start to the season, Cuevas has put together a quality start or better in five of his last six starts and has only allowed one run in each of his last three.
Raul Alcantara (Doosan Bears): Alcantara has been pitching extremely well for a while now, with eight consecutive quality starts dating back to early June. This past week, the Doosan Bear cruised through seven innings in his start against the Kiwoom Heroes, striking out eight batters and allowing just five hits without walking a batter. Alcantara has received excellent run support over his 14 starts this season, and will carry a 10-1 record with his 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP into his next start.
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): The former MLB journeyman has found himself in this section frequently this season, and is recognized again this week following his dominant start against the Kiwoom Heroes. Lotte’s 31-year-old righty spun a gem, finishing seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks, while picking up eight strikeouts. For the season, Straily is among the league leaders in most pitching categories and holds a sterling 5-2 record with a 1.88 ERA and 0.93 WHIP.
There are literally dozens of Twitter accounts and websites you can use to help follow the KBO. Here are some of our favorites, many of which were referenced in this piece.
Feel like something was left out from the opening weeks of the KBO? Have a resource that you feel needs to be shared? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)