Familiar faces out as Bears, Lions both miss KBO postseason

SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) — For the first time since 1996, the South Korean baseball postseason will be without either the Doosan Bears or the Samsung Lions.

The Bears’ record streak of consecutive Korean Series appearances ended at seven this year, as they were eliminated from postseason contention last Thursday. The Samsung Lions, who once played in six straight Korean Series and returned to the postseason last year after a five-season drought, joined the Bears on the outside Tuesday night.

The Bears’ demise had a sense of inevitability to it. They had been losing key players in free agency for a few years and making the Korean Series in 2021 was considered a huge shock.

Prior to Wednesday night’s game, the Bears were in ninth place with a 58-80-2 (wins-losses-ties) record. With three more games after Wednesday, they have tied a franchise record for most losses in a season.

The Bears’ dynastic run began in 2015, and they won Korean Series titles in 2015, 2016 and 2019, while finishing runners-up in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021. But today, one could put together an All-Star lineup featuring former Doosan players from those championship teams who left for greener pastures and more green.

The Bears had been able to fill in the gaps in recent years, but their magic ran out in 2022, in no small part due to injuries.

Left-hander Ariel Miranda, who won the 2021 regular season MVP after setting a single-season strikeout record with 225, only made three appearances this year while dealing with a shoulder injury.

Jose Miguel Fernandez, one of the most productive hitters in the league the past three years, broke his own league record by hitting into 31 double plays, while seeing his power numbers dip to his lowest levels here.

Among the remaining veterans, outfielder Kim Jae-hwan and infielder Yang Suk-hwan couldn’t quite match their previous production. And they didn’t have any fresh names step up and take charge, except for reliever Jeong Cheol-won, who has pitched to a 3.14 ERA in 57 appearances but whose overall impact has been somewhat limited on a team that has lost so much.

Manager Kim Tae-hyong has been in charge since Day 1 of the run that just ended, and his contract will expire at the end of this season. With some veterans retiring or on the verge of doing so, the Bears are trudging into an uncertain offseason.

The Lions (63-75-2) made an unlikely late season push for the final playoff berth, but a 7-3 loss to the KT Wiz on Tuesday sealed their fate.

The Lions dug themselves a hole by losing a franchise-worst 13 straight games from June 30 to July 23, which also cost manager Huh Sam-young his job.

Interim manager Park Jin-man has guided the team to a respectable 25-21 record. Since Sept. 1, the Lions have the league’s best winning percentage at 15-10.

They just ran out of time, and the 13-game slide proved too much to overcome.

Before that slide, the Lions were in sixth place, just one game out of the fifth and final playoff spot. By the end of their skid, they had fallen to eighth place, 10 games back of fifth place.

In seven of those 13 consecutive losses, the Lions frittered away a lead. Veteran closer Oh Seung-hwan blew three saves and suffered two losses during that span, untimely struggles for one of the most reliable relievers in league history.

The Lions have received strong performances from their trio of foreign players. Jose Pirela will be a strong MVP candidate, as he is among the KBO leaders in all major offensive categories, such as batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs and on-base plus slugging percentage. Starter David Buchanan is 10-8 with a 3.04 ERA, his best in three years in the KBO.

First-year starter Albert Suarez has been one of the unluckiest pitchers this year, going only 5-8 despite an excellent 2.58 ERA that ranks him sixth in the league.

They just didn’t get enough support from the homegrown core. Left-hander Baek Jung-hyun, who enjoyed the best season of his career in 2021 with a 14-5 record and a 2.63 ERA, crashed down to Earth with a 4-13 mark and a 5.26 ERA. Outfielder Koo Ja-wook, who has battled injuries all year, has put up his worst numbers across the board, with only four home runs and 35 RBIs in 95 games. Oh, who has a 3.44 ERA, will almost certainly finish with his worst ERA in the KBO in 12 years.

The Lions also have a big question mark over their managerial position. It remains to be seen if Park Jin-man, who had never before managed in the KBO, will get his interim tag removed, or if the Lions will bring in a more experienced figure as the full-time skipper.

Source: Yonhap News Agency