The KBO debuted last night with a bang. Led by Cha Woo-chan, the LG Twins took their home opener against the Doosan Bears, a team they’ll likely be fighting for first place throughout the season. The Kiwoom Heroes mopped the floor with the Kia Tigers, and both the SK Wyverns and Samsung Lions were shut out. Miss some of the action from last night? Click on the links below to watch!
Now let’s take a quick look at some of Opening Day’s top performers.
Byung-Ho Park (1B/DH, Kiwoom Heroes): 3-5, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI. One of the top sluggers in the KBO, Byung-Ho Park started 2020 right where he left off, collecting three hits while leading the Kiwoom Heroes to an 11-2 rout of the Kia Tigers. The crowning jewel was a two-run bomb to left field in the eighth to score Kiwoom’s 10th and 11th runs. While Park struggled playing in the U.S. in 2016 and 2017, he’s been one of the most dominant sluggers in South Korea. While power is down across the board, expect the home run leader from 2019 to be right in the thick of the contest again this year.
Hyun-Soo Kim (1B/LF, LG Twins): 2-4, 1 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. 32-year-old Hyun-Soo Kim was one of the most productive offensive players in the KBO last year, making the top 20 in numerous categories. While never the most reliable power source, Kim blasted a two-run dinger nearly 350 feet into left field in the third inning to put the Twins up 3-0. He added a trademark RBI double in the 8th – Kim finished third in doubles in 2019, so get ready to see that stat line quite a few more times this season.
Dixon Machado (SS, Lotte Giants): 2-4, 1 R, HR, 4 RBI. The longtime minor league and former Detroit Tiger struggled to find sustained success in his 172 games in the majors, but Dixon Machado made his KBO debut with the Lotte Giants in impressive fashion. With Lotte trailing 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Machado stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and smashed a ball to left that just squeaked over the outfield wall to give the Giants a lead they would never relinquish. He also added an RBI in the fifth to score the Giants’ first run of the season. While Machado never hit his stride in the U.S., the KBO could be the change of pace that allows the 28-year-old to break through.
Chang-min Mo (1B, NC Dinos) — 3-4, 1 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. As part of the Opening Day festivities, Chang-min Mo walked up to the plate in the sixth inning just after teammate Suk-min Park smacked a home run into left and decided the best way to celebrate would be adding a no-doubter nearly 400 feet to left – and a heroic bat flip of his own:
BACK JACKS BABY pic.twitter.com/L4Kh7YF8EG
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) May 5, 2020
Mo included a double in the fourth to bat in another run. He was a solid contributor in 2019, but has struggled to stay healthy over the course of his career, topping 130 games only once in his standout 2017 season.
— Dylan Burris
Odrisamer Despaigne (KT Wiz): 6 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 8 Ks. I can’t say for certain that Despaigne was Opening Day’s Gallows Pole winner (though I’m fairly certain of it), but he was undoubtedly Opening Day’s strikeout leader. Despaigne did a great job of getting ahead in the count before either inducing weak contact or running it up to 95 for the strikeout. While his breaking pitches didn’t always induce a lot of whiffs, Despaigne was able to frequently rely on that four-seamer velocity to get strikeouts. This will likely continue to be a successful pitch for the former White Sox arm, as a mid-90s fastball with that amount of run isn’t necessarily the norm for the KBO.
Cha Woo-chan (LG Twins): 6 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 7 Ks. Cha Woo-chan isn’t going to necessarily blow you away with his velocity (his FB sits in the upper 80s), but he’ll definitely be able to beat you with finesse. Woo-chan was able to work both sides of the plate throughout the game, frustrating hitters on his way to racking up the second-highest Opening Day strikeout total. For those unfamiliar with Cha Woo-chan, his arsenal includes a heater, curve, splitter and slider.
Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos): 6 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 6 Ks. While the four walks may jump off the page, I wasn’t as concerned, as he seemed to suffer from a bit of an inconsistent strike zone. For example, in the bottom of the second, Rucinski threw a fastball in a 2-2 count that was close to the black and framed beautifully but called a ball. Rucinski would end up losing the hitter but, as he did throughout the game, worked his way out of the inning without damage. The former Marlin also featured two of the better Ks of the day: this gorgeous slider that was set up perfectly by a prior fastball, and this low-80s curve with some really nice break to it.
Warwick Saupold (Hanwha Eagles): 9 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 K. The Eagles pitcher picked up the 2020 campaign right where he left off: by dominating. Sure, the 2 Ks won’t light up any box scores — I believe it qualifies to be included in the “HAISTFMFWT” category — but it’s tough not to get excited about a two-hit shutout in just 101 pitches on Opening Day. Saupold was definitely aided by the BABIP gods as well as some stellar defense — as is to be expected when a pitcher gives up just two hits but strikes out just two over nine innings — but he was also able to induce a solid amount of weak contact.
— Alex Fast
Tonight’s Key Matchups:
Aaron Brooks (Kia Tigers) vs. Eric Jokisch (Kiwoom Heroes): Aaron Brooks looks to make a splash in his KBO debut. The former Royal, Athletic and Oriole signed a deal with the Tigers this past November and hopes to notch a few Ks with what is a really promising change-up and slider.
Lee Young-ha (Doosan Bears) vs. Song Eun-beom (LG Twins): Lee Young-Ha posted a 3.64 ERA along with a 3.98 FIP in the 2019 campaign. His 2.51 WAR was good enough to be in the league’s top 25, and his 17 wins were tied for the second-most in the KBO last year.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)