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KBO legend prepares to face reigning champion

Tigers look to defend records, Bears hope to cling to their crown
Oct 24,2017
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For the first time in KBO history, the Doosan Bears and the Kia Tigers will face each other in the Korean Series, starting Wednesday at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field at 6:30 p.m.

A Korean Series victory will make history for either of the teams. While the Bears head into the championship hoping to defend their title for the third consecutive year, the Tigers return to the series for the first time in eight years looking to continue their legendary no-loss record.

For the Bears, a Korean Series victory will allow them to become the third team in KBO history to win three championships in a row, joining the Haitai Tigers, now the Kia Tigers, from 1986 to 1989 and the Samsung Lions, from 2011 to 2014, in the exclusive club.

The Tigers return to the Korean Series for the first time this decade with two records to defend. Regardless of the result, the Tigers will hold onto the record for the most championship wins - currently at 10, followed by the Lions with eight and the Bears with five. Their second Korean Series record, however, is under threat. As of now, the Tigers are the only team in the KBO to have never lost a championship - of 10 appearances in the Korean Series, the team has always gone home with the trophy.

Although the Bears won the first Korean Series in 1982, the 1980s and early 1990s were dominated by the Tigers, who took home more than half the titles in the first 10 years of the competition. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Bears returned to contention, by which point the Tigers’ star was starting to wane. As a result, the two teams have never met in the championship series.

The two teams have faced each other twice in the postseason with the scorecard tied at 1-1 - the Tigers won in 1987 and the Bears won in 2004.

Since the playoffs were redesigned in 1989, introducing the first and second rounds for the first time, the team that won the regular season has always had an advantage in the Korean Series - the regular season champion has gone on to win the championship 85 percent of the time.

In the past 15 seasons, that has been the case 14 times. The only exception was when the Bears won in 2015. At the time, the Bears finished the regular season third, but defeated the Samsung Lions for the Korean Series title, making their way up through the first and second rounds of the playoffs.

As the two teams’ battle for the regular season title continued until the very last game of the season, the Korean Series is expected to be exceptionally exciting this year. During the regular season, the Tigers held first place from April 12, but it was by no means a done deal, as the Bears tied the score toward the end of the season. The Bears lead the Tigers in the head-to-head record this season, with eight wins, one tie and seven losses.

Looking at the head-to-head record and the Tigers’ regular season victory, it’s difficult to call which way the Korean Series will go.

The Bears’ “fantastic four” - Dustin Nippert, Chang Won-jun, Michael Bowden and Yoo Hee-kwan - may have been less than fantastic in the playoffs, but the team has continued its postseason dominance with its batters.

The Tigers will have to figure out a way to stop the Bears’ fourth and fifth batters, Kim Jae-hwan and Oh Jae-il. In four playoff games against the NC Dinos, Kim had a 0.471 batting average with three home runs and nine RBIs. Kim’s two three-run home runs made him MVP for the second game and led the Bears to a big 17-7 victory. Oh had a 0.600 batting average with five home runs and 12 RBIs, with four of the home runs and nine RBIs hit in just one game - the final game of the series.

In addition to the two sluggers, Min Byung-hun and Park Kun-woo also brought in the runs, allowing the Bears to score an average 12.5 runs per game in the four games against the Dinos.

But the scores may not be as high in the Korean Series, as the Bears have to come up with a way to bat against the Tigers’ 20-win duo, Yang Hyeon-jong and Hector Noesi. The two pitchers’ performance this season allowed the Tigers to become the first team in 32 years to have more than one pitcher pick up 20 wins in a season. Yang and Noesi have been dominant this season, as their 40 wins is just a little less than half the 87 wins the Tigers picked up this season.

The Korean Series will be played in a best-of-seven format and the first two games will be held at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field starting on Wednesday.

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]