BUSAN, South Korea – This season the Giants get to sit and watch as the KIA Tigers and SK Wyverns beat each other up in a first round rematch of the 2009 Korean Series. In 2009, SK and KIA participated what some believe to be the most dramatic Korean Series in history. The series went seven games and was decided by a walk-off homer.
The series represent a chance for revenge for the 2010 KBO champion SK Wyverns and an opportunity for the KIA Tigers to prove that their 2009 title was more than just luck. Either way, these two teams are not going to take this series lightly.
How, exactly, did the Lotte Giants find themselves in this position? They took care of business and let everything else sort it self out. Lotte did precisely what they needed to do. They needed to sweep their final four games to have any chance at keeping the #2 seed. They did exactly that. The Giants beat the suddenly mediocre Doosan Bears two weekends ago and swept the sixth place Hanhwa Eagles to end the season.
Lotte set the tone for the week with the first game of the series against Hanhwa. The Giants blew out the Eagles in a 20-2 laugher. 20-2 makes this game sound close. It might as well have been 200-2. Lotte beat the Hanhwa Eagles in every conceivable facet of the game.
Lotte was up 9-1 in the sixth and THEN rallied for 11 runs to put the game well out of reach. Hanhwa did help the Giants a lot by committing four fielding errors. Most of the errors lead directly to Lotte runs.
Lotte left fielder Kim Ju-chan went 2-5 with two homers, four RBIs and two runs scored. DH Hong Seong-heun went 2-3 with two walks, two doubles, five RBIs and two runs scored. Jeon Joon-woo started in center field and went 5-6 with three doubles, three RBIs and four runs scored.
Lotte starter Song Seung-joon tossed five innings of one-run ball. Song gave up four hits and one walk while striking out four.
Lotte took the second game of the series. 6-3. This was a game that saw the Lotte bullpen step up as Ryan Sadowski left the game after only throwing four innings. This game even featured a Chris Bootcheck sighting as Chris tossed 1 ? scoreless innings of relief. Goh Won-joon was(finally!) used in relief and earned the W with a scoreless eighth inning.
Lotte faced a 3-1 deficit in the eight inning, but the Giants loaded the bases with one out. Backup infielder Son Yong-seok came to the plate and thumped a double down the right field line. All three runners scored to give Lotte a 4-3 lead. Lotte picked up a few more insurance runs and turned the ball over to closer Kim Sa-yul. Kim threw a scoreless eighth for his 20th save.
The final game of the series was the emphatic dot in the exclamation point that was this final series. Lotte knew they had the #2 seed locked up, so it was a day for the backups to toss a few innings and get a few at bats in a 5-3 win over the Eagles..
Jin Myeong-ho got the start and threw five innings of two-run baseball. Jin gave up three hits and four walks while striking out four.
Left fielder Jeon Bo-myeong hit a double off of Hanhwa ace Ryu Hyeon-jin to plate two runs. Jeon’s ringing double proved to be the difference on the scoreboard as Lotte ended its regular season in winning fashion.
Up next for Lotte is…a week of rest and a chance to enjoy some playoff baseball.
Lotte gets to set it’s rotation and give its bullpen and regulars some much needed time off. The Giants put their foot on the gas for the past few months. There’s a good chance that some arms are sore and some muscles have been tweaked. They’ll get a chance to heal, but the Giants are as healthy as they’ve been in years. The Giants don’t really appear to have any injury issues that are worth mentioning.
Lotte will likely use ace Jang Won-joon in game one against either SK or KIA. Jang has stepped up his game and become the de facto leader of the Lotte pitching staff. Jang lead the Giants in wins and posted a 15-6 record. Jang owns a 3.14 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 180 ? innings of work. Jang struck out 129 and walked 62 this year.
After Jang, the Giants will likely go with either KBO vet and former MLB farmhand Song Seung-joon or fan favorite Ryan Sadowski. Song was second on the Giants in wins(13), K’s(126) and innings(172 ?). Sadowski posted and 11-8 record with a 3.91 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 140 ? innings.
Everyone in Busan knows that the Giants offense is lead by Lee Dae-ho. Lee followed his MVP and triple crown in 2010 by just missing out on the third triple crown of his career. Lee won the KBO batting title with a .357 batting average, but finished second in homers (27) and RBIs (113).
DH Hong Seong-heun struggled through 2011. Hong ended up with a solid .306 batting average, but ended with only six homers and 67 RBIs in 474 at bats.
While Hong struggled, outfielder Sohn Ah-seop emerged. Sohn hit .326 with 15 homers and 83 RBIs while playing a solid right field for the Giants.
Catcher Kang Min-ho also continued to develop as an offensive threat by hitting .289 with 19 homers and 66 RBIs.
The Lotte bullpen was an issue all year, but things did improve once manager Yang decided to stick with Kim Sa-yul as closer with Lim Kyeong-wan and Kang Yeong-sik as the primary setup guys. The shallow end will be an issue. Manager Yang can’t play matchups the way most KBO managers like to because of the lack of depth in the Lotte pen. Lotte will have to avoid slugfests or late inning games if they want to advance to the Korean Series.
Yang will likely need to use either Chris Bootcheck or Goh Won-joon in a relief role to add some depth to the bullpen. It wouldn’t be a ridiculous idea to go with both Bootcheck and Goh in the pen and use a three-man rotation for the playoffs depending on how the schedule shapes up.
The Giants are at least five days away from seeing the field again and a clear favorite in the KIA/SK series has yet to emerge. The series is currently knotted at 1-1 and could very well go the full five games. It’s time for Lotte fans to sit back, relax and enjoy the week off. The Giants are back in round two of the playoffs for the first time since 1999. It’s long overdue.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.