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Twins’ manager sets the bar high for 2020

Feb 01,2020
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A photo of the LG Twins players during the Korean Series game back in 2002, the last time the club advanced to the Korean Series. [JOONGANG PHOTO]
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Ryu Joong-il [JOONGANG PHOTO]
The bar is set high for the LG Twins this year.

Under manager Ryu Joong-il, the Twins managed to finish fourth in the regular season last year with a record of 79 wins, a draw and 64 losses. With a fourth place finish, the team advanced to the postseason for the first time in three years. But they faced an early elimination by losing in the first playoff round.

Having managed to reach the postseason, Ryu has his heart set on a bigger achievement this year, to pick up 85 wins and hopefully to finally take the Korean Series trophy. Since the Twins joined the KBO in 1990, they’ve only won the Korean Series once back in 1994, and the last time they’ve advanced to the Korean Series was in 2002.

Ryu managed to lead his team to the postseason in only his second year as the club’s manager, and on the back of that success he’s hoping that 2020 could be the year for the Twins.

But to take home that big win, Ryu will have to figure out the team’s fourth starter in the rotation and their clean-up hitter.

Last season, the Twins were safely in fourth place throughout the season, thanks to their strong first three pitchers in the starting rotation. The two foreign pitchers - Casey Kelly and Tyler Wilson - and a domestic pitcher Cha Woo-chan successfully managed to get through the entire season in the rotation without any injuries. The three pitchers tossed 533 and two thirds of an inning and managed to pick up 41 wins.

Once the season ended, the Twins were successful in their bid to re-sign both the foreign pitchers.

“Wilson and Kelly both picked up 14 wins last year,” Ryu said. “They can play better this year.”

The Twin’s Korean pitcher Cha is also ready to start his season at 100 percent. Since he joined the Twins in 2017, he has struggled to start training in his best condition.

“Since I joined LG, my preparation for the season hasn’t been smooth, due to injuries and the national team’s schedule.” said Cha. “But this year, I can prepare for the season at 100 percent.”

While the Twins are set with their three starting pitchers, Ryu’s biggest challenge will be to find the next starter to complete a strong starting rotation. Looking at last year’s number, the Twins were ranked fifth in terms of the starting pitchers’ ERA, at 3.94.

Throughout the season, Ryu rotated between pitchers Im Chan-kyu, Bae Jae-june, Ryu Jae-kuk and Lee Woo-chan. But none of the four managed to keep their spot in the starting rotation throughout the entire season. However, among the four pitchers, lefty pitcher Lee picked up the most wins, at five, but that was all in the first half of the season. Pitchers Jang Won-sam and Kim Dae-hyun were also given their chances but failed to earn more permanent spots on the rotation.

Due to this, during spring training this year, Ryu emphasized the improvement of their domestic pitchers. During their time in Australia, the Twins will be mainly focusing on getting their bodies in shape for the season. At the end of February, they’ll continue their spring training in Okinawa, Japan, where they are also scheduled to play in tune-up games. Through the tune-up games, Ryu will give opportunities to a number of players in order to finalize his starting roster.

As of now, the most likely candidates are Im, Kim, Lee and Jung Woo-young, who was named the KBO’s 2019 Rookie of the Year. Throughout 2019, Jung played as the Twins’ bullpen pitcher.

Perhaps, this may be the reason why the Twins are having the longest spring training period this year, along with the Hanwha Eagles. The Twins and the Eagles will end their spring training on March 11.

“Even after the tune-up games, we’re going to stay in Japan and play about three more games within our team [by dividing our players into two different teams],” said the Twins coach Yoo Ji-hyun.

“Sometimes the games within our team are better than the tune-up games, because I get to see a lot more of our pitchers,” Ryu said. “I can thoroughly check their routine including their preparation before getting on the mound.”

In addition to finding their fourth starter in the rotation, the Twins also need to find a clean-up hitter. In terms of a slugger, LG may be at a disadvantage as they use Jamsil Baseball Stadium, the biggest stadium in the KBO, as their home stadium.

Within the Twins, Park Yong-taik hit the most career home runs, at 211, followed by Lee Byung-kyu at 161 and Cho In-sung at 149. Of the 10 clubs in the KBO, the Twins and the KT Wiz are the only teams that haven’t seen a player win the home run title.

But the Wiz is still a young team, as they were the last to join the KBO, back in 2015.

Looking at the club’s recent seasons, the Twins didn’t really have their set clean-up hitter. They’ve had foreign players, but they didn’t stay for long. Last season, they signed Tommy Joseph, who hit 20 home runs over two straight seasons in the majors. But due to his struggles with injuries, he was released by the club during the season and replaced by Carlos Peguero. However Peguero struggled with inconsistency and the Twins parted with him and signed with Roberto Ramos.

As of now, Ramos is very likely to start the season as the Twins’ cleanup-hitter. While at the Colorado Rockies’ Triple A team last year, the first baseman played in 127 games and finished with a 0.309 batting average, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs and 0.580 slugging percentage. Although the numbers can change anytime, he is evaluated to have great swing speed as well as wrist strength.

“Even though Ramos struggles at the beginning of the season, I’m planning on trusting him and giving him a chance,” Ryu said. “Before that, I plan on boosting his confidence throughout camp so he can adjust quickly.”

Just like his first year as the Lions’ manager in 2011, Ryu said he’s feeling good about this year, hoping that it might be the Twins’ year to take the Korean Series title.

“During spring training in my first year as the Samsung Lions manager, I saw double rainbows,” Ryu said. “I thought it was a good sign, and that season Samsung won the Korean Series. The four last digits of my phone number is 2020. I feel like good things will happen this year.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG AND KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]