A wild final day of meaningful regular-season KBO action saw the second-place Wiz lose to the last-place Eagles but back into the number two seed nonetheless after both the Twins and Heroes also lost. The Bears jumped up from five to three with their victory over the Heroes, earning a one-round bye.
The Twins will face the Heroes in the Wild Card Round, which begins Sunday at 1:00 a.m. ET, a "best-of-three" series in which the higher-ranked seed starts with a one-game advantage. The winner of that round will face the defending-champion Bears in the three-game Semi-Playoff. Those teams will play for the right to face the Wiz in the five-game Playoff, with the winner of that series advancing to take on the Dinos in the seven-game Korean Series. Given the delayed season and the cold November weather in Korea, all rounds after the first one will take place at the Heroes' home stadium, Gocheok Sky Dome, the only domed stadium in the league.
This article will give a quick overview of all five playoff teams, as well as my prediction for the outcome of each series.
Wild Card Round
Best-of-three at the Twins' stadium, with the Twins entering with a one-game lead
(5) Kiwoom Heroes at (4) LG Twins
Runs per game: 5.27 (5th)
Runs allowed per game: 4.81 (1st)
Likely Playoff Rotation
LHP Eric Jokisch (2.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 19.1 K%, 4.2 BB%, 159.2 IP)
RHP Jake Brigham (3.62 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 24.8 K%, 9.9 BB%, 107.0 IP)
RHP Hyun Hee Han (4.98 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 18.6 K%, 6.3 BB%, 135.2 IP)
RHP Won Tae Choi (5.07 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 14.8 K%, 8.2 BB%, 110.0 IP)
RHP Sang Woo Jo (2.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 29.4 K%, 8.3 BB%, 54.1 IP, 33 SV)
RHP Woo Jin Ahn (3.00 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 32.5 K%, 13.5 BB%, 36.0 IP, 2 SV)
SS Ha Seong Kim (.306/.398/.523 in 622 PA, 30 HR, 111 R, 109 RBI, 23 SB)
OF Jung Hoo Lee (.333/.401/.524 in 617 PA, 15 HR, 49 2B, 101 RBI, 12 SB)
2B Keon Chang Seo (.277/.388/.386 in 595 PA, 5 HR, 24 SB)
1B Byung Ho Park (.223/.356/.450 in 383 PA, 21 HR)
Last year's Korean Series runners up have been in the mix all season long and looked to have a chance to push the Dinos for the number one seed down the stretch, tying them atop the standings at 20 games over .500 as late into the season as Sept. 13. They stumbled down the stretch, however, going just 15-18 the rest of the way, causing their manager Hyuk Son to resign in early October. While they don't enter the playoffs with any positive momentum, they at least enter it well-rested, as their domed home meant they only had two makeup games to play over the last two weeks.
One player who won't be well-rested, however, is league ERA leader Eric Jokisch, who was defeated by the Bears in Friday's regular-season finale and is therefore unlikely to pitch against the Twins. Jokisch and Jake Brigham lead the league's top pitching staff (which also includes the most reliable bullpen arms in the league) and form one of the best pairs of foreign pitchers in the league, though the Heroes received very little from their foreign hitter spot. Taylor Motter failed to adjust to life in Korea, posting a .335 OPS in 10 games before being waived in May, while midseason acquisition Addison Russell stumbled to a .656 OPS in 65 contests. That's left MLB hopeful Ha Seong Kim and 21-year-old outfielder Jung Hoo Lee (who could well join Kim stateside in a few years) as the only star hitters in an overall mediocre lineup. There's still decent depth around them, however, including a pair of veteran former MVPs in Byung Ho Park and Keon Chang Seo.
Runs per game: 5.57 (4th)
Runs allowed per game: 4.82 (2nd)
Likely Playoff Rotation
RHP Casey Kelly (3.33 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 20.4 K%, 6.1 BB%, 173.2 IP)
RHP Tyler Wilson (4.43 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 17.4 K%, 6.2 BB%, 144.2 IP)
RHP Chan Heon Jung (3.51 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 20.7 K%, 7.3 BB%, 110.1 IP)
RHP Chan Gyu Lim (4.10 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 23.3 K%, 11.0 BB%, 147.2 IP)
RHP Woo Seok Ko (4.15 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 34.0 K%, 12.7 BB%, 41.2 IP, 17 SV)
RHP Woo Young Jung (3.12 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 21.0 K%, 10.3 BB%, 75.0 IP, 5 SV)
1B Roberto Ramos (.278/.369/.592 in 494 PA, 38 HR, 86 RBI)
OF Hyun Soo Kim (.331/.404/.523 in 619 PA, 22 HR, 35 2B, 98 R, 119 RBI)
OF Hyung Jong Lee (.296/.370/.547 in 323 PA, 17 HR, 50 RBI)
SS Ji Hwan Oh (.300/.360/.461 in 591 PA, 10 HR, 41 2B, 95 R, 20 SB)
The Twins had their moments this season where they looked like the strongest and most well-rounded roster in the league, bursting out of the gates with a 15-6 record to start the year. They've also been prone to large stretches of poor form, going 6-16-1 over a 23-game stretch from mid-June through mid-July. Injuries to key players (and throughout the supporting cast) were part of the story, as just three Twins hitters reached 500 plate appearances on the season.
Injuries are a factor for their playoff hopes as well. Roberto Ramos (ankle), who finished second in the league with 38 homers despite appearing in just 117 games, has played in just one game since Oct. 1, though he's expected to be in the lineup against the Heroes. Tyler Wilson (elbow) won't be ready to pitch against the Heroes, though he could return for later rounds should the Twins advance. Quite a lot will rest on the right arm of Casey Kelly, who started the year poorly before closing it with a 2.15 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP over his final 14 starts. There's plenty of depth here, as well, as six regulars finished with an OPS above .800 while all five starting pitchers posted an ERA below 4.50.
Twins in one. Jake Brigham is good, but Casey Kelly has been so dominant in the second half of the season that the Twins should be favored even if Roberto Ramos doesn't return.
Best-of-three at a neutral site
(3) Doosan Bears vs. Wild Card Winner
Runs per game: 5.67 (2nd)
Runs allowed per game: 4.83 (3rd)
Likely Playoff Rotation
RHP Raul Alcantara (2.54 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 25.1 K%, 4.1 BB%, 198.2 IP)
RHP Chris Flexen (3.01 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 31.1 K%, 7.1 BB%, 116.2 IP)
RHP Won Joon Choi (3.80 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 20.0 K%, 7.4 BB%, 123.0 IP)
LHP Hui Kwan Yu (5.02 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 9.7 K%, 6.8 BB%, 136.1 IP)
RHP Young Ha Lee (4.64 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 14.7 K%, 11.6 BB%, 132.0 IP, 6 SV)
RHP Chi Guk Park (2.89 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 22.4 K%, 11.6 BB%, 71.2 IP, 2 SV)
1B Jose Fernandez (.340/.405/.497 in 668 PA, 21 HR, 104 R, 105 RBI)
OF Jae Hwan Kim (.266/.376/.494 in 614 PA, 30 HR, 113 RBI)
1B Jae Il Oh (.312/.391/.482 in 534 PA, 16 HR, 32 2B, 89 RBI)
OF Kun Woo Park (.304/.369/.472 in 551 PA, 14 HR, 40 2B, 103 R)
The Bears have been here before. Quite frequently, actually. Their sweep of the Heroes in the Korean Series last season represented their third title in the last five seasons, and they made the finals and lost in the other two years. Manager Tae Hyoung Kim and the majority of the team's veteran core have been there since the start of that run, so if you buy into the value of championship experience, this team has as much of it as you'll ever find. They'll have to win three series to capture this dynasty's fourth title, though that isn't new territory for them, as they kicked off their reign as a number three seed back in 2015, defeating the Heroes, Dinos and Lions to win their first title in 14 years.
This didn't look like a championship-caliber team for much of the campaign, however, as the pitching staff ranked as low as eighth in runs per game for much of the year. They dramatically improved in that area down the stretch and finished third in runs allowed, just 0.02 runs per game behind the league-leading Heroes. Won Joon Choi entered the rotation while Chris Flexen missed time with a broken foot and emerged as a perfectly capable mid-rotation arm, and then Flexen returned with a dominant stretch run, giving up just a single run across his final four starts. Young Ha Lee, who struggled to a 5.52 ERA as a starter, moved to the pen and thrived, posting a 1.04 ERA in his new role. With the pitching finally sorted out to pair with a deep, veteran lineup, the Bears should scare every team they face this postseason.
Bears over Twins in two. Raul Alcantara and Chris Flexen take care of business against two pitchers not named Casey Kelly (or against Kelly on short rest in Game 2).
Best-of-five at a neutral site
(2) KT Wiz vs. Semi-Playoff Winner
Likely Playoff Rotation
RHP Odrisamer Despaigne (4.34 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 18.3 K%, 8.2 BB%, 207.2 IP)
RHP William Cuevas (4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 18.0 K%, 7.5 BB%, 158.0 IP)
RHP Hyeong Jun So (3.86 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 17.2 K%, 8.4 BB%, 133.0 IP)
RHP Je Seong Bae (3.95 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 14.9 K%, 13.6 BB%, 141.1 IP)
RHP Jae Yoon Kim (3.26 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 25.1 K%, 6.5 BB%, 60.2 IP, 21 SV)
RHP Bo Geun Lee (2.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 14.7 K%, 6.5 BB%, 46.2 IP, 6 SV)
OF Mel Rojas Jr. (.349/.422/.680 in 628 PA, 47 HR, 39 2B, 116 R, 135 RBI)
3B Jae Gyun Hwang (.312/.368/.512 in 600 PA, 21 HR, 35 2B, 108 R, 97 RBI, 11 SB)
1B Baek Ho Kang (.330/.420/.544 in 574 PA, 23 HR, 36 2B, 95 R, 89 RBI)
OF Jeong Dae Bae (.289/.369/.420 in 615 PA, 13 HR, 88 R, 22 SB)
What a season it's been for the Wiz. The KBO's youngest team failed to reach the playoffs in any of its first five seasons, only once finishing higher than ninth. This looked set to be another rough season for fans in Suwon, as the Wiz stumbled out of the gate, going 13-22 in their first 35 games, held back by terrible pitching. They turned things around dramatically after that point, as their 63 percent winning percentage the over the rest of the season would have easily placed them first in the league had they been able to maintain it since Opening Day.
A large part of their dominant run was thanks to Mel Rojas Jr.'s incredible campaign. He narrowly missed out on a Triple Crown by five points of batting average, as his 47 homers led the rest of the field by nine while his 135 RBI led the league by 11. Credit also goes to rookie righty Hyeong Jun So, who looked to be in over his head with a 6.65 ERA in his first nine starts before posting a 2.38 ERA the rest of the way. He's not as dominant as the aces the other contenders can bring to the table, however, and neither are the Wiz's two foreign starters, Odrisamer Despaigne and William Cuevas, both of whom finished with an ERA north of 4.00. The Wiz's chances of continuing their storybook season may wind up resting on their ability to outslug their opponents.
Bears in four. Raul Alcantara and Chris Flexen have been too good for anyone lately, even Rojas and friends, and will again win both of their starts. The Bears lineup does enough damage against the Wiz's mostly mediocre pitching to win this series fairly comfortably.
Best-of-seven at a neutral site
(1) NC Dinos vs. Playoff Winner
Runs per game: 6.17 (1st)
Runs allowed per game: 4.96 (4th)
Likely Playoff Rotation
LHP Chang Mo Koo (1.74 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 29.7 K%, 5.2 BB%, 93.1 IP)
RHP Drew Rucinski (3.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 23.1 K%, 7.9 BB%, 183.0 IP)
RHP Mike Wright (4.68 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 19.9 K%, 10.0 BB%, 157.2 IP)
RHP Myung Gi Song (3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 22.1 K%, 12.0 BB%, 87.2 IP)
RHP Jong Hyun Won (4.26 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 17.9 K%, 9.0 BB%, 57.0 IP, 30 SV)
RHP Jin Seong Kim (2.66 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 34.1 K%, 6.1 BB%, 47.1 IP, 0 SV)
C Eui Ji Yang (.328/.407/.603 in 528 PA, 33 HR, 124 RBI)
OF Sung Bum Na (.324/.392/.596 in 584 PA, 34 HR, 37 2B, 115 R, 112 RBI)
OF Aaron Altherr (.278/.355/.541 in 546 PA, 31 HR, 90 R, 108 RBI, 22 SB)
2B Min Woo Park (.345/.402/.475 in 530 PA, 8 HR, 13 SB)
The Dinos stormed out of the gate this season, winning 17 of their first 20 games. They didn't necessarily outplay the other contenders the rest of the way, but they were more or less able to coast on that early lead and only very infrequently looked as though their number one seed would be under any real threat. They dominated nearly every team statistic for the early part of the season, though they struggled to find reliable options for the back half of the rotation and wound up finishing a modest fourth in runs allowed. The loss of breakout star Chang Mo Koo, who owned a 1.55 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP through 13 starts when he went down with forearm issues, exacerbated that problem.
Koo returned for two appearances at the end of the season, and while he wasn't the same dominant pitcher he was previously, he'll get a few weeks of rest to continue to build up as the Dinos wait to see who will meet them in the Korean Series. Getting something close to the previous version of Koo back will be huge for their chances, as Drew Rucinski is the only other starter the Dinos have who can compete with the best arms on the Bears. If the Dinos' pitching is less than dominant, however, they certainly have a path to victory, as their lineup scored half a run per game more than any other team. Five of their regulars finished with an OPS of .878 or better. The rest of the playoff teams can boast a combined eight such players, with only the Twins claiming more than two.
Dinos in seven. If this series were taking place on equal footing, with both sides coming in with the same amount of rest, I'd side with the Bears, as their deep and experienced lineup isn't too far behind the Dinos', while the recent dominance of Raul Alcantara and Chris Flexen seemingly gives the Bears a pitching edge given the questions regarding whether Koo can recapture his former dominance. I can't ignore the history that shows the regular-season pennant winners winning 16 of the last 18 titles, however, so I'll go with Sung Bum Na, Eui Ji Yang, Aaron Altherr and the rest of the dominant Dinos lineup doing just enough to earn the team its first ever trophy.