Welcome to our weekly Korean Baseball Organization update here at Pitcher List! Recent weeks in the KBO have been characterized by the parity we have seen among the ten teams, with no squad winning more than six of their last 10 games nor losing more than six (except for the lowly Hanwha Eagles) over that stretch, making for an exciting schedule for baseball fans. While the NC Dinos continue to hold a firm grip on first place, eight of the 10 teams in the league are within two games of the .500 mark or better as they continue to duke it out in the dog days of summer.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s happened over the last week (July 13-19), 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:
- Jake Brigham comes off the injured list for the NC Dinos, returning strong for the Heroes with a win on Tuesday and a tie on Sunday; the 32-year-old right-hander had been out since late May with an elbow injury. Brigham had an ERA just under 3 last year (9th best in KBO) and is among the best hurlers in Korea.
- The SK Wyverns activated 33-year-old third baseman Choi Jeong from the injured list on Saturday after missing time with an injured hip.
- The Doosan Bears briefly lost their second baseman Choi Joo-hwan to a toe injury on Friday, but after missing Saturday’s game he returned to the lineup on Sunday against the Kia Tigers.
- Doosan also lost Chris Flexen to a broken foot, which occurred in the first inning of Thursday’s contest. The 26-year-old right-hander finished the inning but was removed immediately afterward and will now likely miss at least a month.
- LG Twins’ Kim Min-sung has missed over a month with a thigh injury but is expected back sometime this week. The 31-year-old third baseman slashed .280 BA/.358 OBP/.383 SLG/ .742 OPS before missing time.
- Lotte Giants’ pitcher Kim Dae-woo is out with an injured ankle and is not expected to return for another several days.
- The LG Twins demoted pitcher Jung Chan-heon after his first rough start in several outings, though the move was made more for usage issues than performance.
- Former major leaguer Brandon Barnes made his KBO debut on July 18 for the Hanwha Eagles batting cleanup in designated hitter slot; he went 1-4 with a double and a strikeout.
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: NC Dinos
The NC Dinos continue to dominate despite stumbling at the beginning of the week against Eric Jokisch and Jake Brigham of the Kiwoom Heroes in back-to-back losses; a pair of wins and a tie against the KT Wiz got the Dinos back on track, finishing off the week with a three-game winning streak. NC currently holds a 5.5 game lead over the second-place Doosan Bears. The Samsung Lions and KT Wiz have the misfortune of running into the Dinos this week, and the Dinos will likely be heavily favored in each contest. On top of that, the Bears face a daunting week of games against the Heroes and Twins, meaning that by week’s end the Dinos could pull even further away from the pack.
Worst Team: Hanwha Eagles
The Hanwha Eagles continue to flounder after closing out just their fourth series victory of the season on Monday, after which they dropped five of their next six matches to end the week on a four-game losing streak. With a series against the Wyverns coming up, the Eagles have a chance at breaking .500 this week for just the second time this season but do not expect too much out of this season’s perennial cellar-dweller. At this point, Hanwa is probably just hoping that they can avoid becoming a tier of their own at the bottom of the standings.
Biggest Surprise: Doosan Bears
The Doosan Bears put up a fine week of their own, going 4-2 on the week including series wins over the SK Wyverns and the Kia Tigers. The high point came on Saturday in a 6-0 victory over the Bears in which starting pitcher Choi Won-joon combined with his bullpen for a shutout victory, while five batters supplied two hits apiece to fuel the win. The true challenge for the Bears comes in what could be a defining week of games against the Kiwoom Heroes and LG Twins—the two teams directly behind the Bears in the standings. A strong week could truly solidify them as the true #2 to the Dinos, while a rough week could find them in the middle of a crowded pack. They’ll be at home for both series, so this is a prime opportunity that they hopefully will not miss.
Best Performance: Hitters
Ji Hwan Oh (LG Twins): Oh continues his tear, pushing his hitting streak to seven games on Sunday going 2-for-4 with a triple, two RBI and a run scored. The 30-year-old shortstop has recorded multi-hit performances in three of his last four games, hitting .345 with three home runs, seven RBI and a 1.125 OPS over the course of his streak.
Mel Rojas Jr. (KT Wiz): The 30-year-old Dominican has been on a tear of late while leading the league in four out of six major offensive categories (and sitting in second place in the other two). Over the past week, Rojas Jr. batted .429 with four doubles and a home run on nine hits in 24 plate appearances. He drove in six and scored three runs while recording an OBP of .500, a SLG of .762 and a whopping 1.262 OPS.
Kang Min-ho (Samsung Lions): Samsung’s catcher has been hitting the ball extremely well of late, batting .550 with a .571 OBP and a .900 SLG for an OPS of 1.471 since July 14. The 34-year-old veteran also hit two home runs and a double, while driving in five and scoring seven runs of his own over the past week.
Best Performance: Pitchers
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): The former Miami Marlin allowed one run on four hits and one walk while fanning six across six innings on Sunday for his third-straight victory. He has not allowed more than one run in any of his last three outings over 21.0 innings pitched with a 0.43 ERA during that stretch. MLB teams will be calling this offseason, and they’d be foolish not to give him a chance to start games.
Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos): Rucinski earned his fifth-straight win on Thursday behind a seven-inning, 100-pitch effort in which he allowed five hits and a walk while striking out five while keeping Kiwoom off the scoreboard to lead his Dinos to victory. The 31-year-old right-hander now sports a 2.05 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP on the season—both numbers being fourth-best in the league.
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): Pitcher List favorite Koo continues to cruise through the schedule, recording a top-10 game score this week against the KT Wiz on Saturday throwing seven innings shut-out innings, allowing just a pair of hits and walks while striking out 10 en route to his third-straight victory and his ninth overall this year; the 23-year-old phenom has yet to lose a game and has posted a ludicrous 1.35 ERA nd 0.78 WHIP so far in 2020. The only real mystery at this point is how high his ceiling truly is. The KBO has given us many things when we needed it most, and the perhaps the most precious treasure has been the emergence of Koo Chang-mo.
There are literally dozens of twitter accounts and websites you can be using to help you 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