The EWC has a shorter preview, but Aaron is going to Tokyo to watch the tourney. I'm painfully jealous.
On to the preview...
Honestly, little is known about these guys. The Lions finished 19-2 on the season. They posted a perfect 12-0 home record on the season. I get the impression that these guys are capable of hitting the baseball, but I don't think they have enough pitching. Actually, I think they can avoid embarrassing themselves at the plate, but I don't think they can avoid embarrassing themselves on the mound.
They swept the Beijing Tigers in 3 games to win their 3rd consecutive CBL championship. They led the league in runs scored(178), team batting average (.340) and stolen bases(57). They were also the only team in the league to post an ERA under 4.00. They finished at 3.52 for the season.
I don't really know much about these guys. I know their cleanup hitter is an individual named Yang Guo Gang. I also know that their leadoff hitter, Wang Chuo, won a batting title in 2007. They also have the rights to the players that have spent time in the Yankees farm system. One of them, catcher Zhang Zhen Wang, is back with the team and playing as their DH. I honestly don't know if he'll be available for the series. Seriously, I couldn't pick these guys out of a lineup if I tried. If you're at all interested in reading up on the CBL, I reccomend their English website. The weekly updates are at least as well written as this blog is and MUCH better written than anything these guys have done.
What the CBL lacks in available info on its players, it makes up for in theme songs. Here's a flash video of the league theme song, Show Time. Of course I'm including a picture of the singer, Lei Qian.
Uni-President 7-11 Lions
Tainan City's Uni-President 7-11 Lions finished the '08 season 67-33. They faced the Brother Elephants in the CPBL championship series. It took them 7 games, but they managed to defeat the Elephants and repeat as CPBL champions.
The Lions are lead by manager, Lu-Wen Sheng. Lu took over the club in 2007. He has won championships in his first two seasons. 3rd baseman Tilson Brito, 2nd baseman Shin Yang and outfielder Wu-hsiang Pan were on the 2008 CPBL Best 9(or 10, there was also a DH). Wu finished 3rd in the CPBL in batting with a .346 BA. Wu also clubbed 13 homers this season. Tilson Brito led the league in RBI(102) and homers(24). 1st baseman, Kuo-Ching Kao also had a fine season at the plate. Kuo hit .332 with 28 doubles, 7 HR and 74 RBI. DH Len-Hung Chen also drove in 65 RBI while hitting .314 with 13 homers.
On the mound, Wei-Lun Pan posted a solid 2008. He finished 3rd in the league with a 2.76 ERA. His final record was 12-2 and in 111 innings he struck out 87 and only walked 10. The Lions have two foreign ringers that will probably follow Wei in the rotation. Luther Hackman and Giancarlo Alvarado both sound like your normal foreign pitchers in Asia. Closer Yueh-Ping Lin finished 2nd in the league with 17 saves.
The 2008 Saitama Seibu Lions defeated the mighty Yomiuri Giants in 7 games to win their 13th Japan Series in club history. 1st baseman, Takeyo Nakamura led the Pacific League in homeruns(46), was 3rd in RBI(102) and 1st in strikeouts(162) while posting a line of .244/.320/.569. Shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima lead the Lions in hitting with a .332/.410/.527 line. Nakajima was Mr. Everything for Seibu this year. He stole 25 bases and clubbed 21 homers. Nakajima combined with 2nd baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka to make Seibu very strong up the middle. Kataoka finished the year with a .286/.322/.371 line and 82 runs scored. Takumi Kuriyama managed to stay healthy and with the big club for a full season. The Seibu outfielder made the most of it. He posted a .316/.376/.450 line while scoring 76 runs, driving in 72 and hitting 11 homers. GG Sato had a solid season in the outfield. Sato finished the year with a .301/.368/.546 line, 62 runs scored, 62 RBI and 21 homers. Seibu has a lineup with more than a few free swingers. Seibu finished with 4 of its hitters in the league top 10 for strikeouts.
On the mound for Seibu, they have three solid starters to use in the tournement plus former LA Dodger, Kazuhisa Ishii. Lefty Kazuyuki Hoashi has been the ace for Seibu this season. In 174 2/3 innings, Hoashi posted an 11-6 record with a 2.62 ERA. He struck out 115 while walking 38. 2nd year man Takayuki Kishi improved on a very successful rookie campaign. Kishi tossed 168 1/3 innings for Seibu while recording a 12-4 record with a 3.42 ERA. He struck out 138 while walking 48. 22-year old Hideaki Wakui couldn't match the production of his previous seasons in the NPB, but he was still solid. The 3-year vet posted a 3.92 ERA with a 10-11 record for Seibu. Wakui tossed 173 innings with 122 K's and 51 walks. He also surrendered 16 longballs.
Things aren't looking that rosy for Seibu right now. Their foreign players left the country after the Japan Series and that could leave them thin in the back end of the bullpen. The offense is most intact but key injuries to their catcher and shortstop could leave them short handed. Both are likely to skip the tourney.
The SK Wyverns steamrolled the KBO en route to their 2nd consecutive league championship. This team was, by far, the class of the KBO this season and this is their chance to show that they're the class of Asia.
The key for SK is its pitching. We all know about the Wyverns 20-year old ace, Kim Kwang-hyeon. Kim is probably going to have to beat the Seibu Lions twice if the Wyverns are to win the first Asia Series for the KBO. Chae Byeong-yeong will either start the 2nd game or be a key kog in the Wyverns bullpen, its unknown how he's going to be used. Chae finished the year with 10-2 record and 2.70 ERA. He struck out 81 and walked 43 in 136 2/3 innings. I honestly don't know if Kenny Rayborn is going to travel with the team to Tokyo. I remember him pitching there last year, if that's any indication. He may or may not start game 3. Song Eun-beom is probably next in line for a start if Kenny is unavailable or Chae pitches out of the bullpen. The KBO bullpen was lead by Jeong Woo-ram. Jeong racked up a league best 25 holds in 2008. He also posted a 2.09 ERA in 85 appearances. Jeong Dae-hyeon was the SK closer during the regular season. He racked up 20 saves in that role.
Korean Series MVP, Choi Jeong, should have done better in the MVP voting last week. He was arguably the best hitter on the best team in the KBO. That should count for something. The SK 3rd baseman posted .328/.410/.480 line last season. He scored 71 runs and drove in 62. SK's boasted 6 hitters with BA's of .300 or higher last season. These guys were constantly getting hits and getting on base for each other. Park Jae-hong lead the team with 19 homers. That's really SK's one weakness. They don't really have that much power, but they are patient. 8 SK regulars had OBP's of over .370 last season. Kim Jae-hyeon led the team with a .426 OBP.
My prediction? SK all the way. They have the deepest pitching staff and play the best team baseball that I've seen from any team in any league this season.
The action starts tomorrow at 12pm local time at the Tokyo Dome. The Tianjin Lions face the Uni-President 7-11 Lions. Then, at 6pm local time at the Tokyo Dome, the SK Wyverns face off against the Seibu Lions. I'll be here with a full roundup of the days' action.