SK in First! But.. there's something wrong with this picture, answer below.
The 2011 KBO season is pretty solidly under way and with this post comes the first weekly rankings for the year.
I usually like to think of a week in the KBO as starting from Tuesdays and ending on Sundays, as Mondays are always off days in this league. This season started on April 2, being a Saturday. So the teams played that weekend, took a break on the following Monday and played until yesterday's Sunday, April 10 games.
So these rankings will be based on the week I described plus the opening weekend. In other words, it's based on all the games played in the season so far.
Well, enough of the blabbering...
1. SK Wyverns (5-2)
SK Wyverns have not skipped a beat since winning their first KBO championship in 2007. They've gone on countless winning streaks, played or won the championship series every year and plays solid baseball like a machine. The team is exceptionally well put together and managed. Other teams live and die by their star players, but ace Kim Kwang-hyun is off to a poor start (0-1, 5.59 in two starts) but the team is still tied for the league lead early this year.
Loss 1 was a solid loss against a re-surging LG Twins team where both teams played hard the whole game. And their second loss was the eventual blow-out that even teams like this will go through. But that one run batted in by vet/pinch hitter Choi Dong-su at the bottom of the 9th that game illustrates the skill and fight this team has. SK will still be the team to beat this season.
2. LG Twins (5-2)
Tied with SK and even beat SK, splitting their rain shortened mid week series, LG Twins are off to a very good start. I did predict there will be improvements with this team, but my predictions are usually (always) off so there's no point in bragging about that. LG's got a lot to brag and be happy about as their hot start is paced by Park Hyun-jun's two quality starts this week, he's at 2-0 and 0.69 ERA early season.
LG's apparently @ first place for the first time in 5016 days, so read the headlines in the Korean sports media. Talking about stuff like that seems kind of flakey but.. that is a lot of days.
Both of LG's import pitchers Radhames Liz and Ben Jukich won games but will need to improve, and I think they should. Both are a lot better than the foreign disasters this team has had in the past.
3. Doosan Bears (4-3)
Starting pitcher slash Busan representer Lee Hae-chon's anticipated return after 2 years in Japan was not well worth the wait as he went 0-1 and 11.06 ERA in his 2 starts. Luckily Dustin Nippert, former Hero Lee Hyun-seung, Lim Tae-hoon, and Go Chang-song are cruising early with sub 2.25 ERAs.
4 wins and 3 losses are not too shabby but it puts this team firmly back where they left off last season, namely "not good enough." Doosan is a high profile team that just cannot seem get to the elite level they want desperately to get to.
Bears have made moves early by sending home import pitcher Ramon Ramirez before his first KBO start and currently looking for another foreign arm. This is the kind of aggression Doosan will need if they want to beat SK and another probable team that'll be ahead of them this season, probably LG.
4. Lotte Giants (3-4)
Lotte's playing pretty tight baseball with a team ERA of 3.30 (good for second in the league.. SK's first and second explained below). This team is also one of three teams (Doosan and LG) that have 3 errors for the season. Lotte's been known for their sloppy defense. They have always been high up in the list when it comes to team ERA's and errors. New manager Yang Seung-ho seems to be addressing this and moving forward.
Newby Brian Corey absolutely dominated in his opening day start beating Ryu Hyun-jin of all opponents and still has a 1-1, 1.35 ERA for the season after his Friday loss against Nexen. We like to crack jokes about import pitchers on this blog but the truth is we want to see foreign players succeed in this league. We are foreign too and we are sports fans and we would rather commend than make fun of. Brian Corey and hopefully Sadowski will hopefully join the other foreign players in the league this year who have started strong and continue to play strong.
5. Kia Tigers (3-4)
Youngster Kim Sun-bin has been a standout at shortstop, continuing where he left off last season. Currently second in the league with 10 RBI's, and first being team mate Lee Bum-ho with 12, he's also leading the league with 13 hits and second in on-base percentage with 0.618.
Kia is turning into a hitter's team as Kim Sun-bin, Lee Yong-gyu (12), and Choi Hee-sup (12) are top 3 in hits and Lee Bum-ho has 9 himself. Speaking of Bum-ho, the man's fresh off his Japan mission and fitting in nicely with the team at the #3 batting position.
Foreign newby starter Travis Blackley shook off his mediocre 7.20 ERA debut against Samsung opening weekend to pitch and win a complete game 9K shut-out against the Bears. This solved a 3 game losing skid and hopefully all these good things happening to this team will translate into wins as the season rolls on for the 2009 KBO champs.
6. Samsung Lions (3-4)
An epic performance in the second round of last year's playoffs and an anti-climatic Korean Series loss against SK has last year's standout Samsung Lions looking to re-gain focus. Lead by new manager Ryu Joong-il, this team salvaged their weekend series by beating SK and their ace on Sunday (April 10).
Samsung's starting rotation was pretty much standout last season, but early this season, Cha Woo-chan is the only standout with an early 2-0, 1.64 ERA. And newby Ken Kadokura (who looks pretty slick in his new Samsung blues) is second with 5.87. Meanwhile, former Samsung foreign arm Brandon Knight is leading his new team's rotation with an early 0.61 ERA and 10K's (Nexen).
New foreign left fielder Ryan Garko is Samsung's good catch having gone 3 for 4 in the last game against SK and having hit safely in 4 out of his last 5 games. 3 of those games were multi-hit. It is still early and we will see what this all means pretty soon.
7. Nexen Heroes (3-4)
Nexen Heroes have really turned it up in terms of their pitching. Leading the league now in team ERA at 2.80, things are really looking up for these tiny tots from Western Seoul. Actually, it's not. The only thing that's changed is Brandon Knight has joined the team and his early 0.61 ERA is doing wonders for the team's average there. Saturday's 12 to 6 win against Lotte was pretty dominating, with Nexen's band of cast offs blasting balls all game long. But second year youngster Lee Jae-gon (8-3, 4.14 in 2010) started that game and didn't last 2 innings. That was only game like that Nexen had.
Still, it is early in the season and there are positives to discuss. Newby left fielder Cory Aldridge is picking up where Doug Clark left off going 3 for 5 and 4 RBI's in the Saturday win. Australian Adrian Burnside is gone, but Knight has had a decent career in the KBO so far and there's no reason why he won't be at least as good as Burnside last year (10-10, 5.52).
Still, besides Geum Min-cheol, there are very few players on this team to get excited about, and Geum Min-cheol isn't even that good either.
8. Hanhwa Heroes (2-5)
Poor Hanhwa Eagles are already 2 and 5 and last in the standings and last in the first rankings on our esteemed blog. Ryu Hyun-jin's mis-deeds are well publicized and without him performing at super-human levels this team might as well be a Future's League team.
The team batting average is at 2.02, that's last in the league. They've hit under 200 4 times in their last 5 games. They are also dead last in team ERA at 7.29. Let's have some more fun talking about other stuff they are last in: team K's at 53, walks given up at 46, losses at 5, hits at 45. They're second last in strikeouts with 55, with Samsung having an unusually large amount of times striking out at 70.
The positives: Hanhwa is curiously leading the league in home runs. Their 8 just beats home runs from league leaders SK (6) and LG (7). Choi Jin-heng had a great season last year with 32 home runs and is "among the league leaders in home runs" now with 2. Shortstop Lee Dae-su is actually leading the league right now with 3 home runs. But Lee Dae-su has never hit more than 7 home runs a season. This positive will also turn into a negative pretty soon.
And... the problem with the photo above is it is a picture of SK's farm (Future's League) team.
JK JK LOL Have a great KBO week!