Sixth place, not fall baseball, for the second year in a row… Kia did its best, but had terrible luck.
Was it too much to hope for?
The Kia Tigers’ dream of making it to fall baseball for the second year in a row came to an unfortunate end in 2023. The fifth-ranked Doosan Bears won against the LG Twins in Jamsil on Thursday, ending the Tigers’ chances of a last-place finish. KIA will now close out the season with a two-game series against the NC Dinos at Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on April 16-17.
Coming into the season, Kia was rated as a top-five team. 토토사이트
The mound looked as solid as ever. The one-two punch of Yang Hyun-jong, Lee Lee, Yoon Young-cheol, and Lim Ki-young could fill five starting spots, and the bullpen has left, right, and side arms. KIA’s mound, which has been nicknamed the “Pitching Kingdom” for years due to its deep pitching depth, was highly anticipated to show great power this year as it was perfected.
The batting lineup, which led the team in batting average (2-for-7) and OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage – 0.747) last year, was no slouch either. The table-setters Park Chan-ho and Kim Do-young and the center fielders Na Sung-beom, Choi Hyung-woo, and Socrates were unbeatable in terms of skill and experience. The bottom of the batting order, starting with Kim Sun-bin, also looked to be in good hands, with Hwang Dae-in, who had a career-high last year, and Byun Woo-hyuk, who was acquired from the Hanwha Eagles in a trade, taking care of the corner infield, and Lee Chang-jin, Go Jong-wook, Woo-seong, and Kim Ho-ryung in the backup spots. The only weakness was the infield, which started with Han Seung-taek and Joo Hyo-sang.
Injuries were the deciding factor in KIA’s failure to reach the top five.
Na Sung-bum, who played in the 2023 WBC, was ruled out of the opening roster with a left calf injury, and Kim Do-young, who was highly anticipated for his performance during the camp, went down with a fractured left metatarsal after the opening two games. Without their table-setters and center hitters, the team struggled to accumulate early wins. The bad luck continued in late August with Mario Sanchez suffering from elbow pain, Lee Yi-ri suffering from micro-inflammation in his shoulder and blisters on his fingers, and Park Chan-ho suffering ligament damage to his left finger. Na Sung-bum (right hamstring injury), Choi Hyung-woo (left collarbone fracture), and Choi Won-joon (left calf fascia and muscle damage) were also ruled out for the season. Park Chan-ho, who recovered from his injury, ended his season with a comminuted fracture of his left ulna after being hit by a sand dune. Long-term injuries in the early and late stages of the season, when it matters most in the standings battle, prevented the team from operating at 100% capacity.
However, in all fairness, Kia’s failure to reach the top five can’t be blamed solely on injuries.
The corner infield, a weakness last year, has stabilized somewhat as Kim Do-young has improved across the board, but the team hasn’t found an alternative after Hwang Dae-in, in his second year as a full-time first baseman, struggled mightily. Byun Woo-hyuk has also made the occasional long ball, but he needs time in the outfield. The team temporarily utilized military discharged outfielder Choi Won-jun at first base. They also called up Oh Sun-woo after the expanded roster was implemented, but he wasn’t a viable option. This is the most urgent problem KIA needs to solve in order to rebound next year.
Keystone depth is also needed. The Park Chan-ho and Kim Sun-bin keystone combination is considered one of the best in the KBO, but KIA doesn’t have the resources to replace it. Kim Do-young can play third base as well as shortstop, but the team’s utility infield of Kim Kyu-sung and Choi Jeong-yong at second base is not enough, as evidenced by their late-season struggles. Park Chan-ho is expected to take some time to recover from his injury, and even if Kim Sun-bin stays as a free agent, he’ll be in his mid-30s, so a rotation system is essential for safety reasons.
On the mound, the challenge is to form a solid one-two punch. Shawn Anderson and Adonis Medina, who KIA touted as “relief pitchers” before the season, packed it in before the first half was over. Their replacements, Thomas Pannoni, had his ups and downs, and Mario Sanchez, who was brought in from the Taiwanese League, flashed early on, but his effectiveness plummeted after a series of set position criticisms. It’s unclear whether either player will be re-signed, but given the tight foreign market, the question is whether KIA can find a solid alternative.
The second year of the KIA coaching staff changed the dugout atmosphere by emphasizing aggressive base running and competition. The team deserves credit for fighting for a top-five finish at the end of the season, given the difficulties of not being at 100% capacity all season. However, the lack of a solid rotation system and rigid management need to be addressed.
Despite the adverse circumstances, KIA did not let go of their hopes of reaching the top five and did their best. They will now have time to recover and improve after the two-game series at home. It’s time to calmly and soberly reflect on the season’s achievements.