The Hangzhou Asian Games (AG) was expected to be the biggest variable in the KBO League standings this season. Unlike in the past, the season was not interrupted during the tournament, and teams were limited to a maximum of three players. Filling in the gaps of key players was the biggest challenge in the end-of-season standings battle.
Excluding amateur player Jang Hyun-seok (Masan Yongmago), 23 players from 10 clubs were absent due to national call-ups. Three players from LG, NC, Lotte and Samsung, two from KT, SSG, KIA, Hanwha and Kiwoom, and one from Doosan were called up on March 23. The gold medalists will return to their respective teams on the 9th after returning home on the 8th.
During the 16 days of the AG call-up, SSG was the best performing team in the KBO. SSG was missing its main shortstop Park Sung-hwan and center fielder Choi Ji-hoon. It was feared that the team would suffer a major blow with the departure of two pivotal players in the centerline, but they managed to post a 9-3-1 record, including a six-game winning streak, and a 7.5-point winning percentage. Fifth place was also in jeopardy as they were chased by sixth-placed KIA, but they have jumped to third and are fighting for a direct semi-playoff spot.
Choi missed six games with a sore back, but his bat came alive with the second-best team OPS (.761) in the AG. In center field, Kim Sung-hyun has filled in nicely, going 3-for-3 with 15 RBIs (in 45 at-bats) and an .804 OPS in 13 games. Choi Ji-hoon’s center field spot was shared by Kim Kang-min and Guillermo Heredia. Most importantly, Han Yoo-seom bounced back perfectly, hitting 4-for-5 (17-for-42) with two home runs, 13 RBIs, and a 1.101 OPS in 13 games. The bullpen, which collapsed in September, has also stabilized, led by the resurgent Choi Min-jun.
After SSG, LG had the second-best record at 8-5 (.615 winning percentage) and clinched the regular season title. With the team’s depth, the loss of three players (Go Woo-seok, Jung Woo-young, and Moon Bo-kyung) was not felt as much. In the absence of closer Ko Woo-seok, five players – Kim Jin-seong (2), Baek Seung-hyun, Yoo Young-chan, Choi Dong-hwan, and Choi Sung-hoon (1) – picked up saves and maintained an ironclad bullpen.
On the flip side, there are some teams that have fallen victim to the AG blitz. NC, which was missing three players – pitcher Kim Young-kyu, catcher Kim Hyung-joon, and shortstop Kim Joo-won – was hit hard. They finished the season 4-10 (.286 winning percentage), including a team-high six straight losses. They were in third place, one game behind second-place KT, before the AG convened, but dropped two spots to fifth in 16 days. Their recent form has been the worst, and they’ve fallen out of a three-way battle with SSG and Doosan for third place. 레고토토
The absence of Seung-jo Kim in the bullpen has been a big factor. During the AG, NC ranked 9th in ERA (5.16) and the bullpen faltered greatly. It was painful to lose both games against SSG in Munhak on the 3rd and NC in Changwon on the 8th with a generous five-run lead due to bullpen difficulties. Kim Han-byul, who was given a chance as the starting shortstop, was unable to fill the void left by Kim Joo-won at the plate, batting 2-for-4 with a .560 OPS (9-for-37) and one RBI in 14 games. The absence of Kim Hyung-jun, who showed one-hit ability at catcher before being sent to AG, was also disappointing.