‘Fresh air’ (LG Twins) and ‘magic’ (KT Wiz) are the key words for the Korean Series (best-of-seven KS) to determine the strongest team in Korean professional baseball in 2023.
The long-awaited Korean Series will kick off on July 7 at 6:30 p.m. in Seoul’s Jamsil Stadium with a showdown between regular-season No. 1 LG and No. 2 KT.
The fact that LG, which reigned as a prestigious club in the 1990s under the name of “New Wind Baseball,” has made it to the Korean Series for the first time in 21 years since 2002, when it finished as runner-up after a long dark period, itself attracts a great deal of attention.
Looking to win their third title in 29 years, following the 1990 and 1994 titles, LG will be hoping to use this year’s KS to lay the groundwork for a twin dynasty.
Challenging LG, which is tied for the Korean Series title, is KT, an emerging powerhouse that has entered fall baseball for the fourth consecutive year and will return to the KS for the second time in two years after winning the combined regular season and Korean Series title in 2021.
The team name WIZ, derived from the English word for ‘wizard’, symbolizes KT.
After battling at the top of the standings all season, LG took the top spot on June 27 and hasn’t lost it since, and was the first team to finish with a two-hit balance.
KT, on the other hand, fell to the bottom of the standings with a -14 win-loss differential due to injuries to their main players, but rebounded sharply after June, adding a whopping 31 wins to finish the regular season with a +17 win-loss differential.
Then, in the playoffs against the NC Dinos, they dropped Games 1 and 2 and were on the brink, but then swept Games 3 and 5 to become the third team in the history of the five-game best-of-three playoffs, after the Hyundai Unicorns in 1996 and the SK Wyverns (now SSG Landers) in 2009, to perform a secondary magic and reach the Korean Series.
LG, which ranked first in team batting average (0.279) and team runs scored (767) in the regular season, was led by a sharp spear, while KT, which boasted 38 team quality starts (seven or more innings pitched by a starter and three or fewer earned runs allowed) in the regular season, the most among the 10 clubs this year, built a solid shield with a solid starting lineup and a strong bullpen.
The matchup between LG manager Yim Kyung-yeop and KT manager Lee Kang-cheol, two years his junior at Gwangju Il-Go, who worked together for four years as manager and head coach of the Nexen Heroes from 2013 to 2016, is also of interest.
While Yeom enjoyed the thrill of winning the 2018 Korean Series as SK’s manager, he has yet to celebrate as a head coach.
Lee took the helm later than Yeom, but washed his hands of the title in 2021.
Will LG’s offense break down KT’s mound?
LG’s biggest strength is its ability to score runs through a variety of routes.
Anchored by Hong Chang-ki, who leads the league in batting average (.444) and RBIs (174), the “batting trio” of Park Hae-min and Shin Min-jae, the sophisticated left-handed lineup of Moon Bo-kyung, Moon Sung-joo, and Kim Hyun-soo, and the punching power of Austin Dean, Park Dong-won, and Oh Ji-hwan.
LG has the firepower advantage this season, beating KT 10-6.
It also helps that LG will only face Wes Benjamin, who has given up four of KT’s six wins this year, once in the Korean Series.
Benjamin started Game 5 of the playoffs on Friday and threw 83 pitches in five innings. He won’t pitch until Game 3 of the Korean Series on Tuesday.
If LG can close out the Korean Series in six games or less, they won’t need to see Benjamin again.
KT’s weapon against him is a strong bullpen.
Go Young-pyo, William Cuevas, Benjamin, and Byung-sung Lee lead the starting rotation, backed by playoff MVP Son Dong-hyun, reigning World Series MVP Park Young-hyun, and veteran closer Kim Jae-yoon.
KT cooled the bats of NC, who were on fire in the playoffs with a team ERA of 2.20. The pitching trio of Son Dong-hyun, Park Young-hyun, and Kim Jae-yoon posted a zero ERA.
◇ KT bats to take advantage of 8 well-rested LG pitchers
Although the starting lineup is inferior to KT’s, LG’s pitching staff can match KT’s in quality and quantity. In particular, they have fresh shoulders after more than three weeks of rest.
LG manager Yoon Kyung-yeop plans to use 14 pitchers out of the 30-man roster for the Korean Series. Casey Kelly, Choi Won-tae, Im Chan-kyu, and Kim Yun-sik will be the four starters, with Lee Jung-yong serving as the long man and second starter.
The remaining nine players will all be in the bullpen. Baek Seung-hyun, Yoo Young-chan, Kim Jin-sung, and Ham Deok-ju will be joined by new faces this season, as well as the tried-and-true Jung Woo-young and Go Woo-seok. Depending on the situation, they can cut, block, and return.
While KT has the edge in the field, they may struggle against LG’s volume offense. The KT bats haven’t cooled off in the playoffs, hitting just .253 as a team, even against the weak NC mound.
They will need the bats of center fielders Anthony Alford (14-for-2) and Park Byung-ho (20-for-4), who have been quiet in the playoffs, to break out and give LG a run for their money. 슬롯게이밍