After an explosion of offense on Day 13, we saw the pendulum swing back in the other direction on Day 14. With only 30 runs being scored across the five games, each one was especially important to each team, evidenced by the three tight, low scoring contests (including an 11-inning nail-biter between two of the top three KBO squads), though the Wiz and Tigers did manage to get some breathing room as their offenses fired on all cylinders.
Miss some of the action from last night? Click on the links below to watch!
Kia Tigers: 6, Lotte Giants: 0
Kiwoom Heroes: 3, SK Wyverns: 5
Let’s take a look at the top performers from the day, brought to you by Scott Chu and Alex Fast:
Hwang Jae-gyun (3B, KT Wiz): 3-4, 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, SB. The one-time San Francisco Giant couldn’t find much success in the States when he crossed over in 2017, but he’s always found a way to be big-time player in the KBO for his offense and for his electric bat flips. His outstanding contributions in this contest extends his hitting streak to five games and he’s tallied five extra base hits in that span. He should continue to be a staple of the Wiz lineup throughout the season.
Kim Moon-ho (1B/OF, Hanwa Eagles): 2-4, 2B. The long-time backup for the Lotte Giants was released at the end of 2019 and nearly retired before joining the Eagles to provide some support in the outfield and at first base. This was only his fourth appearance with his new club but he’s managed at least one hit each time they’ve added him to the lineup with six hits total. That type of consistency should allow him to carve out more playing time going forward.
Roberto Ramos (1B, LG Twins): 1-3, HR, BB. The 25-year-old was once a prospect in the Rockies system, had no issues producing with the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2019 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI with a 135 wRC+, but that didn’t stop the Rockies from selling his contract to the LG Twins this offseason. He has a ton of power in his bat but according to many scouts, he was likely to toil away as a quad-A player for the Rockies, who already have a bit of a troubling history when it comes to shuffling players between the majors and minors. He already has 10 extra base hits in the KBO and five home runs in his last eight games. His strikeouts were a bit of a concern for the Rockies, but he’s always been able to take a walk and he’s shown much improved discipline in Korea. Because he’s so young, a strong showing in the KBO should give him plenty of attention in the US in the near future.
Koo Ja-wook (OF, Samsung Lions): 2-3, 2B, R, SB. 2019 was the first time the former KBO Rookie of the Year failed to post an OPS north of .900, but so far Koo has been on a mission to prove that was merely a fluke. He now has a six-game hitting streak going and multiple hits in four of his last five games.
Choi Hyung-woo (DH, Kia Tigers): 2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB. The 36-year-old is no stranger to offense, as he led the KBO in RBI in both 2011 and 2016. He got the game started with a bang by taking Dan Straily deep for a two runs in the first inning, which was two more runs than the opposing Giants would score all game. He’d been off to a slow start thus far, hitting just .245/.322/.377 coming into this contest, but perhaps this was just the jolt the elder DH needed. He hasn’t posted an OPS below .900 since 2012, and the Tigers hope he can stretch that streak at least one more season.
An Chi-hong (2B, Lotte Giants): 1-4, SB. An has several claims to fame, such as being the youngest ever KBO All-Star Game MVP and winning a Gold Glove back in 2011. He had a bit of a down season in 2019, hitting just five home runs and socking 44 of them from 2017-2018. An only has one so far on the season and hasn’t managed an extra base hit in about a week, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing with his legs by stealing five bases so far this season, which is as many or more than he’s had in a single season since he swiped 7 in 2017.
Yang Eui-ji (C, NC Dinos): 2-4, 2B, HR, R, RBI. Speaking of Gold Glovers, Yang won back-to-back-to-back Gold Gloves for his fine work behind the dish between 2014 and 2016, and also was the Korea Series MVP back in 2016 as a member of his now-opponent the Doosan Bears and was even the Rookie of the Year in 2010. In addition to being an exceptional defensive catcher, Yang also can really rake, posting consecutive seasons with a 1.018 OPS and has 20 or more home runs in four of the last five seasons. Today’s dinger was his first of the 2020 season, and the Dinos hope it is the first of many as they make a run for the playoffs.
Aaron Altherr (OF, NC Dinos): 0-4, BB, 4 K. While we’ve highlighted the successes of many former MLBers in this column, it’s important to point out that it’s not as easy as just crossing the ocean and smashing the ball. While Altherr has certainly seen some success so far, days like this are still a reality and remind us that the KBO isn’t just a place to pad stats for a year to find a new MLB squad. There’s no freebies in baseball.
Park Se-hyuk (C, Doosan Bears): 1-1, RBI. This was a hard-fought contest between two title contenders in the KBO, and while he didn’t light up the scoreboard, the scrappy starting catcher (who was supposed to be having a day off) stepped up in the bottom of the 11th inning with one out to drive in Jung Soo-bin from second base with a single past the right fielder to win the game for the Bears.
And while I hoped to find a bat flip to share with you, I found it perhaps more fitting on such a low scoring day to highlight the first triple play of the KBO season:
KBO's first triple play of 2020 turned by the KIA Tigers pic.twitter.com/I0xjlLqUeP
— Dan Kurtz (@MyKBO) May 20, 2020
Chris Flexen (Doosan Bears): 8 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 10 K, 2 BB. Flexen became just the third KBO pitcher in the 2020 season to record a game with double digit strikeouts (Dan Straily and Koo Chang-mo being the others). Flexen did a fantastic job working the entirety of the plate with a steady mix of fastballs, sliders and curveballs. The former Met benefits from having an above average fastball velocity by KBO standards and when he’s able to locate the pitch at the top of the zone, a lot of Korean hitters struggle to catch up to it. Coming into the game, the NC Dinos were far and away the hottest team in the KBO so this should be a nice lift for Flexen who seems to be getting more and more comfortable with each start.
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): 8 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 7 K, 1 BB. Arguably the best pitcher in the KBO, Koo Chang-mo delivered another fantastic performance today for the NC Dinos. The more I watch him, the more I think he’s a Korean Matthew Boyd minus the HR issue. He’s fantastic at burying his slider deep in the zone and locating with his fastball (which doesn’t have the best velocity). He’s now made three starts and has a 0.41 ERA with a 0.55 WHIP over 22 IP. A friend of mine who works for the KBO believes that if he can develop a cutter, he can be a Korean Cliff Lee – which is a really exciting comp – and considering Koo is only 23-years old, he has plenty of time to develop one. In the meanwhile, I’ll be sure to tune in to every game he throws.
Drew Gagnon (KIA Tigers): 6 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 9 K, 2 BB. The beginning of Drew Gagnon’s performance completely and utterly floored me. Made me jump to the ceiling in excitement. Made me remember why I love baseball. Let’s break it down (follow along here). First pitch: 91 mph fastball with wicked movement to it doted low and away. If the batter reaches out for that, the last second movement likely turns it into a ground out but he wisely lays off. Second pitch: slider at 85 mph in the exact same location that the batter swings over. Finally: a gorgeous changeup at 79 mph in the same location AGAIN with another swing over the pitch. So let’s recap: 91 low and away to 85 low and away to 79 low and away. Just. Gorgeous.
Lee Seung-ho (Kiwoom Heroes): 5 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 7 K, 1 BB. The 21-year old bounced back from a rough last start (3 IP, 4 ER, 8 H) with a very good performance against the bottom-of-the-standing SK Wyverns. Lee induced a fair amount of weak contact by coming in at the hands of right handed hitters with his fastball. Though a defensive mishap led to an elongated 2nd inning, Lee was able to settle in for the remainder of the game (minus one mistake pitch taken deep) using a combination of fastballs and sliders to record his highest K total of the young season.
Thursday’s Key Matchup
Ee-whan Kim (Hanwha Eagles) vs Hyeong-jun So (KT Wiz): While Ee-whan Kim isn’t going to necessarily light up the K leaderboard, he is going to induce a lot of weak contact and keep runs to a minimum. Through two starts so far he’s working with a 1.64 ERA with just one extra base hit allowed. While Hyeong-jun So hasn’t been as fortunate at minimizing weak contact, he’s been keeping the KT Wiz in games as through 11.1 IP he’s given up 4 ER for a 3.18 ERA.
— Alex Fast
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)