As the players relaxed on Saturday evening, they were told they were out of the postseason. On a day without a game, the KIA Tigers’ chances of making the postseason were completely eliminated.
With a record of 71 wins, 2 draws, and 69 losses (0.507) in 142 games through 14 days, the Tigers were pinning their hopes on the last possible outcome. If fifth-place Doosan lost all four of its remaining games and KIA won the NC on Sept. 17-18, it would be a two-way tiebreaker for fifth place.
In other words, there was no chance for KIA to clinch a spot in fall baseball on its own. Depending on the outcome of Doosan’s game, they could have been eliminated from the postseason in a single day. In the end, their fears were realized, and Doosan secured at least fifth place with a 3-2 win against LG on the 14th. Naturally, with all of the postseason teams decided, KIA’s challenge came to an end. It was their first postseason exit in two years since 2021.
The goal was more than a top-five finish
After finishing last year’s regular season in fifth place, KIA lost the wild-card game to KT, ending their fall baseball season after just one game. The players and fans were devastated. On the one hand, there were expectations that the team could leap to greater heights if they retooled during the offseason. Clearly, the goal was more than a top-five finish.
The problem is that it didn’t go according to plan. First of all, the departure of free agent catcher Park Dong-won took some of the weight off the backstop. It was also the biggest challenge for Kia before the season. The team opted for internal competition instead of external recruitment, and it was not until they acquired Kim Tae-gun via trade that they were able to solve their problems.
They added new foreign pitchers Shawn Anderson and Adonis Medina to their starting rotation before the season, but none of them made it to the end. Mario Sanchez and Tomas Pannoni, the two foreign pitchers who were brought in midseason, were also inconsistent. As a result, there’s little to say that the season turned out the way KIA wanted it to from the start to the end. This is why preparations for the new season need to be more thorough.
The most devastating injury was the ‘rope injury’
But above all, it was injuries that had the biggest impact on KIA’s failure to make the postseason. Starting with Na Sung-bum, who was injured before the start of the regular season, many players suffered from injuries, big and small. In fact, the team was at “full strength” for less than half of the regular season schedule.
Injuries piled up, especially toward the end of the season. First, star infielder Park Chan-ho tore a ligament in his finger on March 12, then Na Sung-beom, who had been hitting hot since returning from injury, was diagnosed with a right hamstring injury that ended his season. Choi Hyung-woo and Choi Won-jun also went down with injuries.
While the team had the resources to replace the injured players, it was almost impossible to overcome the loss of their top players all at once. It’s hard to say who was at fault. Everyone on the team, from the players who had worked so hard, to the coaching staff, to the fans who had watched them, had to come to terms with their loss.
Kia head coach Kim Jong-kook, who was bitter whenever he met with the press, emphasized that “we’ve been through it, and we have to get through it,” but it was easier said than done.
If there was still a harvest 스포츠토토
The team ranking of sixth is naturally not satisfactory. Still, there were meaningful achievements in the process. The first is the growth of Kim Do-young, a second-year infielder. Despite playing fewer games this year (82) than last year (103), Kim showed his full potential, hitting seven home runs. If he can stay healthy and play a full season, he could do even better.
Foreign hitter Socrates also did his part by having a season without any major injuries. He powered the offense with double-digit home runs and 150 hits for the second year in a row, and he also played a lot of innings on defense. When asked about Socrates before the game against Doosan in Jamsil on the 13th, Kia manager Kim Jong-guk expressed his satisfaction, saying, “He keeps hitting one hit after another when he has a chance, so we keep winning, even if it’s by a small margin.”
On the mound, ‘ace’ Yang Hyun-jong’s steadiness stood out, and the growth of Lee Yi-ri and left-hander Young-gun was evident. Anchoring the bullpen was Choi Ji-min, who also made his presence felt at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. Closer Jung Hae-young, who recorded 20 saves for the third consecutive year, remained the team’s backstop.
KIA needs to prepare for the new season without Yoo Jong-soo
Like other teams, KIA had a lot to prepare for their final home game. The team organized a fan signing session for Lee Yi-ri, Yoon Young-cheol, and Kim Do-young under the theme of “Shout of Light” at the game against NC on the 17th, as well as events such as giving away cheering towels to spectators and wearing Gwangju jerseys.
While it would have been great to give fans a dramatic turnaround in the standings, it’s time to reap the rewards. KIA needs to reward the fans who have been coming to Gwangju-KIA Champions Field despite the team’s struggles with a win.
In fact, it’s even more important after the season ends. How the team spends the time between the upcoming final training camp, spring training and exhibition games early next year could determine the outcome of the 2024 season. Kia shouldn’t forget this season’s disappointment.