SEOUL, They were the two best teams in the regular season this year in South Korean baseball. Now they will duke it out for supremacy in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), with the best-of-seven Korean Series starting Tuesday.
And managers for the two contestants, Youm Kyoung-youb for the LG Twins and Lee Kang-chul for the KT Wiz, on Monday predicted a long and hard-fought series.
LG Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb (L) and KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul hold up fingers to show how long they think the Korean Series will last, during the media day press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 6, 2023.
The Twins had the best record in the regular season and earned a bye to the Korean Series. The Wiz climbed from last place in June to finish with the second-best record and knocked off the NC Dinos in the previous postseason series to reach the Korean Series.
The Twins won the season series 10-6, but Youm said Monday the two teams were more evenly matched than the record indicates.
"The Wiz have always been a difficult team to play against, and there were many games that we were lucky to win," Youm said at the Korean Series media day press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. The first pitch for Game 1 is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Jamsil.
"They have a good starting rotation and a good lineup," Youm added. "But where we may fall short in experience, we can make up for it with our determination and sense of urgency. I could really feel that from our players as we were getting ready for the series."
LG Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb (L) and KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul stand next to the Korean Series championship trophy during the media day press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 6, 2023.
The Twins are trying to win their first championship since 1994. It's one of the longest title droughts in the KBO, and feels even longer than that because of their particularly passionate and aggrieved fan base.
The Wiz, an expansion club that joined the KBO in 2015, won their first-ever championship in 2021. About half of the players from that championship squad are back this year.
Lee said he thinks the series will go the distance and the champion will be crowned in Game 7.
"LG is a great team. They were the first-place team in the regular season for a reason," Lee said. "I am worried about everything that they bring to the table. I think they have the perfect balance of pitching and offense. They run the bases well, and they play great defense."
Youm said the key for the Twins will be to get to the Wiz's starting pitchers early and often.
"They went through some adversity early in the year, but their starting pitchers have carried them to this point," Youm said. "They also have great relievers in the bullpen. I think that if we don't score off their starting pitchers, we will be in trouble."
Lee said the Twins may not have such a strong starting rotation, but their bullpen may be deeper than his own relief corps.
LG Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb (L) and KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul smile during the Korean Series media day press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 6, 2023.
"They can throw seven or eight relievers at you," Lee added. "And they have so many hitters up and down the lineup who can put the ball in play. For us to win, we have to score some runs off their starters, but not so early that they will go to their bullpen."
To that end, Youm said middle reliever Yi Jung-yong will be an important player for the Twins this series because he can eat up multiple innings if a starting pitcher falters early.
Another important reliever, closer Go Woo-suk, has been cleared to pitch in Game 1 after suffering some lower back issues last week, Youm said.
The Twins led the KBO with 166 steals in the regular season, and 33 of them came against the Wiz. But Youm said he will pick his spots when it comes to stealing bags in the Korean Series.
Youm and Lee have a long personal history. They were teammates at Gwangju Jeil High School in the southwestern city of Gwangju in the 1980s, with Lee being two years his senior. In the pros, Lee worked as bench coach under Youm for four years with the Nexen Heroes.
LG Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb (L) and KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul pose next to the Korean Series championship trophy during the media day press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 6, 2023.
Both said, setting aside the competition on the horizon, that they were happy to be meeting each other on the biggest stage in South Korean baseball.
"Away from the field, he's my big brother. It's so great to see him in this series," Youm said with a smile. "He just knows so much about me. So that's one of my concerns going into this series. He is always eager to learn about the game, and I hope he will continue to be the leader for all the other managers in this league."
Lee said one of the reasons he wanted to reach this year's Korean Series was to have a showdown against his former teammate and former bench boss.
"After working for him for four years, I could see why he became a manager. He is really detail-oriented," Lee said. "I learned a great deal during my time working for him. It helped me get to where I am today."
Source: Yonhap News Agency