Doosan and Kiwoom both take big victories to continue their streaks, LG falls behind Kiwoom in the standings after their loss, and NC ekes out a win over the Wiz to keep the top spot safe. Samsung continues to claw their way into the middle tier with a blowout over the Eagles, as Lotte gains on Kia in the standings with a come-from-behind walk-off win.
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Kim Tae-kyun (1B, Hanwha Eagles): 2-3, 2B, HR, R, RBI, BB. Another rough day for the Hanwha offense, but Kim Tae-kyun did his part. He reached base on three of his four appearances and chipped in two hits, both for extra bases. He blasted a solo shot to lead off the sixth inning, tying the game and giving the Eagles some hope before the Lions responded in the bottom of the inning with seven runs. Kim has been a Hanwha stalwart for his long and illustrious career, with an average OPS in the mid .900s ever since he won Rookie of the Year in 2001. The 38-year-old has shown serious signs of decline in the last few seasons, with his batting average falling below .300 for the first time since 2007. Nonetheless, he’s still a legend, and can still pitch in days like this.
Park Hae-min (CF, Samsung Lions): 2-2, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI. Park Hae-min entered the game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning and immediately made his mark, delivering with an RBI single to right field. He would later come around and score as part of the Lions’ seven-run sixth inning. He came up next in the seventh and blasted a three-run homer nearly 400 feet. He only had two plate appearances today but made them count to finish with two runs scored and another four RBI. The 30-year-old had a down year in 2019, but has been bouncing back to sniff at his career norms. His power is higher than normal, but though his limited playing time has apparently affected his eye, as the center fielder is putting out the lowest OBP in his career—he’s only drawn three walks in 104 plate appearances.
Choi Hyung-woo (DH, Kia Tigers): 2-3, HR, 3 RBI, BB. Choi must have been feeling good near the end of the game, as Kia held a 3-0 lead thanks to his three RBI. Lotte would score four over the final two innings and go on to win, but the 36-year-old shouldn’t get any of the blame. He kicked off the scoring in the fourth with a 410 foot home run straight to center to plate two, then added on an RBI single in the sixth. The former Lion may have already peaked, but he’s still an extremely reliable contributor in the heart of the Kia lineup. He’s got one of the best eyes in the KBO, drawing more walks than strikeouts so far this season.
Kim Joon-tae (C, Lotte Giants): 2-2, R, 2 RBI, BB. Kim Joon-tae entered the game in the fifth inning to take over at catcher from Jung Bo-geun, and started out by drawing a walk. Down 3-0, he got things really going in the eighth by collecting a single and coming around to score. He then capped off his night by playing hero in the ninth, delivering a single to plate two and walk it off for the Giants. The 25-year-old splits time with the young Jung Bo-geun, who is only in his second year in the league, but gets the larger share of playing time and for good reason. Kim isn’t going to be winning MVP anytime soon, but he’s shown a decent power stroke this season and looks likely to surpass his career highs in playing time.
Yang Eui-ji (C, NC Dinos): 2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. Speaking of MVP catchers (okay, not actually, but Yang led the league in average, OBP, and SLG last season), Yang did what he does best and put the team on his back, contributing to three of the Dinos’ four runs. He plated the first run off a sac fly in the first, scored in the fourth inning after notching a double, then added on a solo homer in the sixth. The 33-year-old catcher isn’t quite as dominant as he has been the past two seasons, but he’s still arguably the most valuable player in the league.
Bae Jeong-dae (CF, KT Wiz): 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R. As difficult as I find it to not write about Mel Rojas Jr. (on the day he takes the home run lead with his 14th of the season, no less!), I just couldn’t pass up the chance to talk about Bae Jeong-dae, who had an even better day and is in the midst of his breakout season. The 25-year-old has never hit 100 PAs in a season and never managed an OPS over .600—until now. The center fielder has already doubled his previous career high in plate appearances from last year, and has shown just how much he deserves his playing time, with an OPS over .900. He’s showing a completely new power stroke, an improved eye (still striking out, but adding a lot more walks), and an unreal .344 batting average. Some of this is bound to regress down over the season, but he’s sustained it long enough to show that he’s for real.
Kim Jae-hwan (DH, Doosan Bears): 3-4, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, SB, BB. The former MVP absolutely stuffed the stat sheet en route to a Doosan blowout of the Wyverns. He plated two with a single in the first and stole a base, added another RBI single in the third and came around to score, then swatted a solo bomb to lead off the fifth. He settled down after that but the damage was done. Kim has regressed since his whirlwind 2016-2018 stretch of three straight 1.000+ OPS seasons, but he still has the capability of absolutely dominating the game at any given moment. Batting in the heart of such a dangerous lineup, he’ll continue to contribute for the rest of the season.
Choi Joon-woo (2B, SK Wyverns): 3-4, R. SK actually recorded more hits than their opponent Doosan, but just couldn’t make anything work with them. Choi was the hits leader for the Wyverns, smacking three singles and scoring one of the two runs for SK. Batting out of the eighth spot, the 21-year-old is in only his second season of KBO play, and has struggled to get started offensively. Today was a nice sign of his potential, though he also committed two errors (admittedly at a point when the game was already out of reach), leaving continued questions of playing time.
Kim Hyun-soo (LF, LG Twins): 2-4, 2B, R, RBI. I could write about Kim Hyun-soo all day; on a night when the Twins’ lineup struggled to get anything going, Kim did his part. The left fielder singled in the first, doubled in the fifth and scored, and chipped in a sac fly in the ninth. The 32-year-old is one of the most solid and reliable offensive players in the KBO, with a great eye for contact, stellar plate discipline, and a good heft of power. With frequently streaky play out of Roberto Ramos, Kim serves as the anchor for the Twins’ lineup, and he’s having one of the best years of his career.
Park Byung-ho (1B, Kiwoom Heroes): 4-4, 2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI. I had to save the best for last, and I’m not just saying that as a Kiwoom homer. The 2019 home run champion has struggled to get going in 2020, but today showed exactly what he’s capable of, belting his ninth and tenth homers of the year en route to a perfect 4-4 day. He was also hit by a pitch and scored in the second inning. After dominating the league for the better part of the last decade, Park has barely been batting over .200, though managing a decent walk rate and occasional power to mitigate some of the damage. He could turn it back on at any moment though, and today looks like as good a spark as any.
Aaron Brooks (Kia Tigers): 7 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 6 K, 3 BB. Brooks came into play Tuesday with an ERA squarely at 3.00. By the time he left after seven scoreless innings — his best start of the year — he lowered it to 2.61. He fought off a pair of early walks and an error that led to a baserunner, and took a no-hitter through four-plus innings until An Chi-hong rudely broke it up with a double to centerfield. He didn’t get the win Tuesday after Kia squandered his performance in the final two frames, but he’s now given up just five earned runs in his last four outings and has racked up nearly a strikeout per inning over that stretch.
Chris Flexen (Doosan Bears): 6 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 8 K, 0 BB. Flexen has been reliable all season for Doosan, having never given up more than three runs in any start. He kept the trend alive on Tuesday as he powered the Bears past SK, striking out the side in the first inning to make a statement and then scattering his remaining five Ks through the rest of his outing. The win was his first since May 14. Remarkably, his record sits at 3-1 with four no-decisions despite his consistent efforts.
Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos): 7 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 6 K, 1 BB. Rucinski’s outing on Tuesday was his seventh straight quality start and eighth in nine attempts for the 2020 Dinos. The 31-year-old struck out the side in the second inning and induced oodles of groundouts otherwise. The first out he recorded through the air wasn’t until a popup in the fourth. Coincidentally, that same inning he was tagged for back-to-back jacks by KT. The wheels may have startled to rattle, but they never came off. His ERA now sits at 2.66.
Choi Won-tae (Kiwoom Heroes): 6 IP, 2 ER, 9 H, 4 K, 2 BB. While Choi gave up nine hits on Tuesday he avoided any scathing damage, escaping with his third win of the year. He gave up a run in the first, worked a couple of clean frames in the second and third, and then danced through some trouble after that. Part of avoiding trouble for him is limiting the free passes and he’s doing it again in 2020: Choi has just nine walks through nine starts.
Wednesday’s Key Matchup
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants) vs. Lee Min-woo (Kia Tigers). If you’ve followed the KBO at all this year you know of the success Dan Straily has achieved so far. He has the league’s third-lowest ERA at 2.10 and WHIP of 1.01 (behind only Koo Chang-mo of NC and Eric Jokisch of Kiwoom in each category.) His 62 strikeouts best everyone. On the other hand, Lee Min-woo comes into the game with one of the best ERAs of his career, but it still sits above five. He also has less than half as many whiffs as Straily, with just 30 in 45.2 innings so far.
Straily’s Giants are in sixth place while Lee’s Tigers are two games ahead in fifth. The middle of the KBO standings have been tight all year. A typical performance from each starter tomorrow could make for even more attrition. If the baseball gods flip the script for giggles, we’ll see a weird game that widens the gap.
-graphic by Justin Paradis