BUSAN, South Korea — Lotte has exactly one game this week, while the third place Wyverns play five, including a huge three-game set against the first place Samsung Lions. Samsung clinched first place this week, so they are just trying to make sure everyone is ready to sit on the sidelines and watch for two weeks while the second, third and fourth place teams battle it out for the right to face them in the Korean Series.
Could Samsung tank the three game set against SK? Sure they could. Could tanking the three-game set actually make a difference? It could in terms of playoff seeding, but it likely wouldn’t have any impact on Samsung. The Lions know they’re going to face either Lotte, KIA or SK in the Korean Series, but these are the last three meaningful games Samsung is going to have for almost three weeks.
It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see the Lions use these games as their last tuneup for the playoffs before they sit on a couch and wait to learn who they’ll face in the Korean Series. They’ll likely be smart about workloads and injuries, but they should try to win these games if for no other reason than a sweep could send SK into fourth place with a few KIA wins.
Forcing the defending champs to battle through two series on the road is a lot more appealing than letting them win one series with home field advantage. Then again, they might just choose to play the kids and journeymen and get everyone healed up for the Korean Series.
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Speaking of the playoffs, Lotte played some pretty important games last week, in case you haven’t heard.
Lotte opened this week with a huge series against SK. Lotte opened the series with a very tense 5-4 win. After trading runs for the first few innings, this game was tied at three heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Lotte put runners on second and third after some questionable play by SK center fielder Park Jae-hong allowed Hong Seong-heun to double. Catcher Kang Min-ho was intentionally put on to load the bases for pinch hitter Park Jong-yoon. Park hit a sac fly to right to plate the go-ahead run. Lotte added some insurance when a run scored on a fielder's choice from third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun.
Another poorly played ball from SK right fielder Park Jeong-kwon allowed Lotte outfielder Hwang Seong-yong to triple with one out in the seventh. Third base was as far as Hwang would get because Lee Dae-ho was intentionally put on and Hong Seong-heun grounded into a double play to end the threat.
SK threatened in the top of the ninth. With a runner on second and one out, pinch hitter Choi Dong-su doubled down the left field line to cut the lead to 5-4. Lotte closer Kim Sa-yul gave up a walk and a single to load the bases. The only thing that kept SK from scoring on the base hit was a terrific deke from Lotte right fielder Hwang Seong-yong. Kim Sa-yul battled the next two batters and managed to get a pair of lazy fly balls to end the threat and the game.
Lotte had sole possession of second place for almost 24 hours. SK came back and took the second game 6-2, thanks to a great effort from the SK bullpen and a poor effort from the Lotte ‘pen. SK turned a 2-0 deficit into a 6-2 lead when Lotte starter Ryan Sadowski tired in the sixth inning and the Lotte arson squad came in. Kang Yeon-sik, Lee Jae-gon and Jin Myeong-ho turned a 2-0 squeaker into a 6-2 headache.
The two teams were tied for second place again because the Lotte offense woke up for the rubber match and clubbed the Wyverns in a 12-2 victory.
Lee Dae-ho remembered he was the best hitter in the league and went 2-5 with a double, a homer, four RBIs and two runs scored. Third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun chipped in with a 2-3, three-RBI effort. Doesn’t it seem like whenever Lotte scores a ton of runs, Hwang is usually contributing?
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Lotte starter Song Seung-joon tossed 6 ? solid innings of two-run baseball. Song allowed eight hits and one walk while striking out six. Both Lim Kyeong-wan and Kim Sa-yul made appearances because, well, Lotte doesn’t have anyone else they can trust with a 10-run lead.
Both teams had Friday off, so the Giants owned a one-game lead over the Wyverns for more than a day.
Lotte traveled to Daejeon for a two-game set with the Hanwha Eagles over the weekend.
The Giants earned a 6-1 behind a solid effort from ace Jang Won-joon and a timely offense.
Jang threw seven innings of one-run baseball against the Eagles. Jang gave up six hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Lotte broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning and iced the game by scoring at least one run in four consecutive innings. Left fielder Kim Ju-chan went 2-3 with two walks, a double, a steal, three runs scored and a RBI. Light hitting infielder Moon Gyu-hyeon hit a two-run homer in the eighth to ice the game.
Sadly, Lotte didn’t gain any ground on the Wyverns because SK beat LG, 7-6.
The Giants wound up splitting the two-game set by dropping the Sunday game, 4-3. Thankfully, they didn’t lose any ground as the Wyverns lost to LG by the same 4-3 score.
The 4-3 loss was a wild game that same Lotte battle back from an early 3-0 deficit and tie the game with a three-run rally in the fifth inning. The game remained locked at three until the bottom of the 11th inning.
Lotte six relievers after starter Goh Won-joon was chased from the game in the fourth inning, so they called on starter Song Seung-joon to toss an inning of relief.
Song loaded the bases with no outs and gave up a walk-off single to Hanwha pinch hitter Lee Yang-ki to end the ballgame. This one was especially painful because Lotte had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the eleventh and were unable to score.
Lotte has four games remaining on the schedule and third place SK has nine with a game separating the two teams. Lotte needs to win all four games if they want any hope of hanging onto the #2 seed. The Giants play the Doosan Bears at Sajik in a game that they should expect to win. This week off gives the Lotte pitching staff a chance to get a few off days. They should come into that game rested and ready to defend their home turf. It’s likely going to be Chris Bootcheck against whoever Doosan feels like penciling into the lineup.
SK starts the week with two games at home against Nexen and three at home against Samsung. It’s time to turn on the TV and send those negative vibes towards Incheon. Just because they can’t see you, doesn’t mean they can’t feel your loathing gaze.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the KBO each week.