A true showcase series ignites Tuesday when the top two teams in the KBO begin a three-game battle in Changwon. Second-pace Doosan (19-10) is the defending league champ, and has won three of the last five titles. First-place NC (23-6) has been an absolute juggernaut in the first month of the 2020 season.
ESPN announced last week it would show all three Bears/Dinos games live on the mother ship, replayed later in the day on ESPN2. A treat for baseball fans, bettors, and everyone missing MLB here in the states. Games will be played at postseason intensity, even if stands are still empty. If you haven’t watched any KBO this season, now's the time to start.
ESPN’s card (all starting times Eastern)….
Tuesday: Doosan at NC, 5:30 a.m. (ESPN), 2 p.m. replay (ESPN2)
Wednesday: Doosan at NC, 5:30 a.m. (ESPN), 2 p.m. replay (ESPN2)
Thursday: Doosan at NC, 5:30 a.m. (ESPN), 1 p.m. replay (ESPN2)
Doosan enters on a four-game winning streak after sweeping the Kia Tigers this weekend by scores of 5-1, 4-3, and 3-2. NC is on a five-game streak after crushing league doormat Hanhwa in 13-2, 14-2, and 8-2 laughers. (Hanwha manager Yong-duk Han resigned after Sunday’s game, which had extended he Eagles’ crash to 14 straight losses).
Though the Dinos lead the Bears by just four games in the standings, “the Big Blue and Gold Machine” been much more dominant in key indicator stats...
Runs Scored per Game
That’s a full run-per-game edge through 29 outings for both. Doosan’s strong, but NC is on a whole different level.
The Dinos aren’t playing small ball. The rest of the KBO is averaging about one home run per game or less. NC could take two weeks off and still lead the league in this category. Power baseball.
NC: 3.58 ERA, 3.82 runs allowed per 9 IP
Doosan: 5.28 ERA, 6.03 runs allowed per 9 IP
We included the “runs allowed” category because it gives the Dinos credit for much-superior defense. NC has only allowed 0.24 unearned runs per game. Sloppier Doosan has allowed 0.75 unearned runs per game. Doosan’s pitching is even worse than its 5.28 ERA would suggest. That’s likely to be the big hurdle in the championship chase.
WHIP (walks plus hits allowed per inning)
Further context for NC’s edge. The Dinos don’t allow many baserunners, outside of the most vulnerable arms in the bullpen. Doosan must dodge bullets while trying to win shootouts with its mediocre pitching.
On paper, NC should be clear favorites head-to-head. They already won two of three in a road series in Seoul May 19-21. The Dinos offense will likely get guys on base against that 1.59 WHIP of Doosan, then bring them around to score with the long ball.
That said…it’s certainly possible that NC is playing over its head. Regression could come quick against a quality opponent. Doosan’s roster also has more big-game experience. Might be a difference-maker in a high-pressure series.
Good luck handicapping this KBO clash.
LG AND LOTTE LOOK FOR SWEEPS
The rest of the midweek schedule gives other playoff contenders a chance to improve their hopes.
SK Wyverns (10-19) at LG Twins (18-11)
Hanwha Eagles (7-23) at Lotte Giants (14-15)
Kia Tigers (15-15) at KT Wiz (11-18)
Kiwoom Heroes (17-13) at Samsung Lions (13-17)
LG is home after playing nine of its last 12 on the road. The third-place Twins host a Wyverns side that’s just 3-11 on the road this season.
Lotte scored a home sweep over KT this past weekend, bringing its home record to 9-5. You already know visiting Hanwha has lost 14 straight. Lotte enters the week a half-game out of fifth place. The top five KBO teams qualify for the stepladder postseason format.
GOOD WEEKEND FOR HOSTS
As our study of home field advantage in empty KBO stadiums continues, it’s worth noting that hosts in “evenly matched” series this past weekend did well. We mentioned last time that NC at Hanwha was a “first vs. worst” mismatch for a visitor. The other four matchups were expected to be more competitive. In those, home teams went 10-2!
Doosan swept Kia
Lotte swept KT
Kiwoom went 2-1 vs. LG
SK went 2-1 vs. Samsung
It was a 10-5 weekend for hosts because of NC’s road sweep. That brings the season-to-date record to 79 wins for hosts, 65 wins for visitors (throwing out the three neutral-site games between Doosan and LG at shared Jamsil Stadium).
A 79-65 record is a winning percentage of .549, which converts to a shade over -120 on the money line. A “no juice” line of exactly even teams would be “host -120.” With the standard 20-cent line offered globally in MLB, options would be “home favorite -130” and “road dog plus 110”. With the 30-cent line being commonly used in KBO games this season, that’s “home favorite -135” and “road dog plus 105.”
NC’s 35-6 combined road rout of Hanwha pushed visitors ahead on the raw scoreboard 757-753 for the season. Important to note, though, that visitors are guaranteed to get full regulation at bats. Hosts don’t bat in the ninth inning with a lead. If you penciled in about a half-run for each of the ninth innings that hosts didn’t bat (a fair approximation with this year’s stats), then scoring totals would correspond better with wins and losses.
Food for thought and future discussion: How much of “home-field advantage” in baseball simply involves the power of having the final at bat?