BUSAN, South Korea – I was confident that this series would go the full five games, but I never thought things would turn out like this. Lotte won the first two in convincing fashion, and Doosan had the look of a team on the ropes. I never would have thought that the Bears would win two games in Fortress Sajik, and then take a third straight game in Jamsil. I didn't think they had the pitching, the offense, or the heart. They certainly didn't look like it after dropping the first two games of the series at home.
Lotte starter Song Seung-joon didn't have much tonight. He was pulled after logging two plus innings of work. The Lotte bullpen didn't fare much better. Lee Jeong-hoon, Ryan Sadowski and Bae Jang-ho tried to stop the bleeding, but Doosan kept spraying base hits all over the outfield. By the time the dust settled, Lotte was facing a 9-1 deficit and the game felt out of reach.
Lotte coach Jerry Royster admitted as much when he simply said after the game that, "Our pitching could not stop them today." Royster continued, "They did what they did. They put themselves in position to score runs. It didn't matter who was out there."
When the final outs were recorded, Doosan had banged out 16 hits, drew six walks and scored 11 runs. The Bears were simply too much for the Lotte pitching staff tonight.
So, what went wrong for Lotte in this series? Well, I can't really point to any one player or one play and say, "That's where they lost the series." I really think this is a case of Lotte simply getting beat. As far as the things that went wrong during this series, it was a lot of the same things they've been dealing with all year.
This team didn't go the whole year without a pitcher reaching double digit saves because the bullpen was too effective. Lotte needed their relievers to step up all year, and none of them ever really did. The story was the same during the playoffs. Lotte needed the bullpen to get some big outs in Games 3 and 4, and they weren't able to. Lotte didn't have any big fielding issues until the ninth inning of Game 4 when things had gotten out of hand, but team defense has been an issue all year. Lotte will need to figure out something at shortstop next year. A healthy Park Ki-hyuk would be nice, but it’s clear that Hwang Jae-gyun is better suited to play third base than short.
It also would have helped if Lee Dae-ho and Hong Seong-heun didn't have a fairly poor series. Lee did hit the game-winning home run in Game 2, but he hit only .188 for the series. Hong appeared to be lost at the plate for most of the series. He ended with a .118 batting average. I don't think it's fair to blame Hong and Lee for the series loss. Lotte wouldn't have made it to the post season without these two. Also, scoring runs wasn't really a problem for Lotte. The struggles came when they needed to keep Doosan off the scoreboard.
After losses like this, it’s important to remember the good times during the season. Whether it was the wildly successful ‘Foreigner Night’ events, or Lee Dae-ho bashing home runs, Karim Garcia going 7-7, or Kim Su-wan throwing a complete game shutout against SK in August. This team still has the crowning of Lee Dae-ho as MVP and I'm sure that Lee, Hong Seong-heun and Kang Min-ho will likely earn themselves Golden Glove Awards this year. Golden Gloves are a little different in Korea than in the U.S–in America, Golden Gloves are given to the best fielders, while in Korea they're given to the best players.
Finally, Lotte has three major challenges for the off-season.
First, Jerry Royster's fate needs to be decided. If most fans had their way, I'm sure he would be back, but it depends how the Lotte Corporation feels. I'm also not sure that Jerry would accept another one-year deal. I get the impression that he wants to be here, but he wants a multi-year deal and a salary worthy of a manager who's taken his team to the playoffs for three straight years.
Lee Dae-ho is a free agent this year, and it remains to be seen where he'll land. I'm not sure if he wants to go to Japan, or if he'll be able to find an MLB contract. My guess is that he's back with Lotte next year, but who knows. Lotte cut his salary after last year. I'm sure he doesn't forget that.
Third, Lotte has to decide what to do with the foreign dudes. Karim Garcia is popular, but I think his suspension and Twitter rant probably guaranteed he won't be back with Lotte.
Ryan Sadowski could return. After some initial struggles, Ryan had a fine season with Lotte, and I'm sure the Giants would welcome another year of his services. He didn't log a ton of innings this year, so I don't think he'll burn out like KIA's Aquilino Lopez did this year. Between his ability and his demeanor, I think Ryan is the type of foreign ballplayer that should be able to find a contract in Asia fairly easily. I get the impression that his personality fits in Asia. He's more of a laid back dude than most of the guys I've seen come through Korea. My concern for Lotte is that either a KBO rival, or a Japanese team throws more money at him.
The Giants did find some things out about themselves this year. The growth of young outfielders like Jeon Joon-woo and Son Ah-seop has been fun to watch. The emergence of starting pitchers Lee Jae-gon and Kim Su-wan could give the Giants one of the deeper starting rotations in the KBO, if Cho Jeong-hoon and Son Min-han can get healthy. I wouldn't mind seeing Son try to make a comeback as a relief pitcher. I think his veteran presence on the mound would be helpful in the late innings, even if he doesn't have the stuff that he used to. He's shown that he can get KBO hitters out without his best stuff. He just needs to find a way to stay on the field.
Last, a big thank you to all the readers here at Busan Haps and at TSOKB. Thanks for making the season special for me. I've had a blast doing these columns, and I appreciate you guys for not giving me too much of a hard time for being a Samsung Lions fan.
See you next season!
Editor's Note: Just want to thank Matthew for doing an INCREDIBLE job covering the Giants week in and week out this year. Your're awesome bro. ~ Bobby
On a side note, I sent a text message congratulating manager Jerry Royster on a great season and he wrote back "Thanks dude! What a great season it was for everyone."
I wouldn't normally quote personal coversations, but that just had to be printed. Great work Lotte, lets go get 'em next year!
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO throughout the week.