The unexpected demise of #4… LG shouts out, but can’t guarantee a ’20-win-200K monster’ PO matchup
Fourth-ranked NC sailed through the wild-card decider and semifinals undefeated, earning a four-day break before the first round of the playoffs. It’s a scenario that KT, which has been calling for an overthrow of LG in the Korean Series beyond the playoffs, never envisioned.
The NC Dinos earned a thrilling 7-6 one-run victory in the third game of their best-of-five semifinal against the SSG Landers in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO Postseason at Changwon NC Park on April 25.
NC, which finished fourth in the regular season and defeated fifth-ranked Dusan 14-9 in the first round of the wild-card decider, easily punched its ticket to the playoffs by sweeping even third-ranked SSG in three games. This is the fifth time in history that the fourth-place regular season finisher has advanced to the playoffs, following LG in 2016, NC in 2017, 바카라사이트 Nexen in 2018 and Doosan in 2021.
The most baffling team is second-place KT. After finishing the regular season the first of the 10 teams to do so, they were able to relax and prepare for the playoffs, but now they have a new variable to contend with: a fourth-place finish. With NC having four postseason games under their belt and a honeyed four-day break, they no longer have a complete advantage in terms of experience and stamina.
KT has a head-to-head record against both NC (10 wins, 6 losses) and SSG (10 wins, 1 draw, 5 losses) this season, but NC has been a bit tougher than SSG. This is because their batting lineup is filled with national team hitters such as Park Gun-woo, Park Min-woo, and Son Ah-seop, including Eric Peddie, who led the KBO with 20 wins and 209 strikeouts this season. To make matters worse, rookies such as Seo Ho-cheol and Kim Hyung-joon got a chance to get their feet wet through fall baseball.
NC also won four postseason games without Pedi, relying on Shin Min-hyuk, Song Myung-ki, and Tanner Tully. Tanner faltered for two games in a row, but Shin Min-hyuk and Song Myung-ki stepped up in big games. This meant that Pedi, who was injured by a batted ball at the end of the season, was able to recover enough to prepare for the first round of the playoffs. The day before, NC coach Kang Myung-ho said, “We originally prepared to start the fourth game, but if there are no changes, I think we can play the first game of the playoffs.”
Of course, there are hopeful factors. Pedi’s record against KT this year is 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA in three games. KT is the only team out of nine to have two losses. On April 13 in Changwon, substitute starter Choi Jo-hyun handed Pedi his first loss in the KBO, and on August 13 in Suwon, KT scored three runs in five innings against Pedi in a 4-0 sweep.
Pedi will also take the mound for the first game of the series on Aug. 30 after taking 13 days off after the Gwangju KIA game on Aug. 16. The gap of about two weeks cannot be ignored. “I think he’s going to lose his sensation, but he has time, so I think he can find his sensation after pitching one more inning in the bullpen,” Kang said.
KT has been steadily preparing for the playoffs at KT Wiz Park in Suwon since the 14th. On the 23rd, the team held its first exhibition game, followed by a second exhibition game on the 26th and training sessions on the 28th and 29th, before starting the best-of-five series on the 30th.
KT’s biggest strength is its starting lineup, which boasts the best strength among the 10 clubs. All of the starters who suffered injuries at the end of the season have returned to form, leaving a solid rotation of William Cuevas, Wes Benjamin, Ko Young-pyo, Uhm Sang-baek, and Byeol Seong. With four starters in the rotation, the other can be a solid long reliever. KT is a team of starters, having won 57 games this year with just starters (No. 1 overall).
KT head coach Lee Kang-cheol said, “In the postseason, we were able to see the power of NC once again. They are a well-coordinated team on offense and defense, so we will not let our guard down and play as prepared.” “We had a crisis in the regular season, but the whole team came together as a ‘one team’ to overcome it and go straight to the playoffs. We are determined to show the same performance and cohesion we showed during the regular season in the playoffs.”
“We will do our best to stand on the best stage with our fans once again, just like two years ago,” he added, promising to advance to the Korean Series for the second time in its history.
KT’s ultimate goal this season is to defeat LG and win its second championship. Foreign pitcher William Cuevas said, “All I can think about right now is defeating LG,” and veteran Hwang Jae-gyun said, “We have nothing but the championship on our minds. We want to go all the way to the Korean Series and finish with a good result.”
However, to achieve their goal, they will have to go beyond the first gateway, the NC. They’ll need to be at their best, as they’ve won four straight postseason games.