Friday, April 03, 2009

Baseball season gets underway. From the JoonAng Daily

Baseball season gets underway

A successful 2008 Korea Baseball Organization season and 2009 World Baseball Classic have many fans anxiously awaiting the start of the new baseball season, set to kick off this Saturday at 2 p.m.

The JoonAng Ilbo baseball reporters’ predictions for the 2009 season don’t reveal any drastic changes from last year.

As expected, the SK Wyverns, coming off back-to-back Korea Series wins, are projected to top the standings again. The only team in the history of the KBO to have won three straight titles were the Gwangju-based Haitai Tigers, now the Kia Tigers.

“SK is the only sure bet to make the playoffs this season. Other than SK, the Lotte Giants look good but it’s anyone’s guess from there,” said MBC commentator Huh Ku-yeon.

The Doosan Bears, who have come up short against the Wyverns for the past two seasons, will depend on their youth and speed to try to overtake SK once again. Starting pitcher Matt Randall, however, has been lost to injury.

In choosing the Wyverns and the Lotte Giants to make it to the Korea Series, KBS commentator Lee Yong-cheol relegated the Bears to the middle of the pack with the loss of Randall.

“All clubs have improved their lineup during the offseason. Look for the Kia Tigers with Seo Jae and Choi Hee-seop to be playing good baseball in the spring,” said Lee.

The Lotte Giants, who won the spring exhibition season with 11 wins and a loss, are hoping to repeat the third-place finish they achieved under the leadership of manager Jerry Royster. The Giants have a potent batting lineup featuring Karim Garcia and Lee Dae-ho. Their pitching is projected as second best in the league.

While the Giants are being lauded as winners by many insiders, manager Royster thinks the season will be a tight race. “The playoffs are as unpredictable as the Korean weather,” stated Royster.

The Hanhwa Eagles, Samsung Lions and the LG Twins are predicted to battle it out in the middle of the pack in the eight-team league.

The LG Twins, who finished at the bottom of the standings last season, signed a few big free agents in the offseason with the goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Lee Jin-young, Jeong Sung-hun and Park Byung-ho are just some of the additions to a team that already includes Bong Jung-keun.

The Samsung Lions, who lost to the Giants in the first round of the playoffs last season, is another solid contender to make the final playoff spot. With manager Seon entering the final year of his contract, he will try to live up to his promise of delivering the fans three titles in his five year tenure. The Lions won the title in 2005 and 2006.

Anything less than a playoffs season from the Hanhwa Eagles would be a big disappointment for fans. WBC members Kim Tae-kyun, Lee Bum-ho and manager Kim In-sik are all entering the final year of their contracts and should be motivated to produce. The starting rotation is lead by Ryu Hyun-jin and former New York Met Ku Dae-sung is the reliable lefty in the bullpen.

The Kia Tigers, who finished sixth last season, are looking to bounce back with improved play from former major leaguers and hometown players Seo Jae-woong and Choi Hee-seop. Starting pitcher Yoon Seok-min, who had a solid showing at the WBC, is the ace.

The Heroes will have Kim Si-jin return to the bench as the manager after a year. The improved team chemistry and new leadership could lead to a competitive season.

By Jason Kim, Kim Seek []

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