Mister-Baseball.com is counting down with short team-by-team previews until the World Baseball Classic starts on March 5th.
Tonight the final rosters of the World Baseball Classic teams will be announced. Before the presentation at 6pm ET, we take a look at another of the 16 countries in the WBC. Olympic champion South Korea wants to use their latest triumph to translate in top result in the 2009 Classic.
South Korea opens the 2009 WBC against Taiwan on March 6 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. With a victory the Koreans would face arch rivals Japan in the second match. Depending on the result they might need another win against Taiwan to clinch a spot in the second round. This phase begins on March 15 at the Petco Park in San Diego, California. The two advancing teams from Pool B with Cuba, Mexico, Australia and South Africa join the two top Asian squads.
Recent Tournament History
South Korea looks back at a pretty successful recent international Baseball tournament history. In Beijing last August they won each of their nine games, including a 3-2 victory against Cuba in the Olympic final to secure their first ever Gold medal.
In the 2007 Baseball World Cup in Taiwan, South Korea reached the final round in fourth place with a 4-3 record, lost in the quarterfinals against World Cup winner USA, but won the last two classification games to finish in fifth place. In 2005 they had lost the BWC final against Cuba to take home second place.
The 2006 World Baseball Classic also saw an impressive performance by the Korean team. They won each of the six games during round robin play in the first two rounds. But after beating Japan (3-2, 2-1) twice earlier in the tournament, they lost the decisive semi-final 0-6 against their rivals to finish in fourth place. They also celebrated victories against Taiwan (2-0), China (10-1), Mexico (2-1) and the USA (7-3).
In the current IBAF World Rankings, South Korea is in third position behind Cuba and USA, and in front of Japan.
Korea – Hanwha Eagles 10-7
Korea – Hanwha Eagles 7-4
Korea – Hanwha Eagles 1-1
Sunday, March 1:
Korea – Seibu Lions
Monday, March 2:
Korea – Seibu Lions
Tuesday, March 3:
Korea – Yomiuri Giants
The two advancing teams from Pool A will play two additional exhibitions against the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers on March 11 and 12 in Arizona.
The roster of South Korea doesn’t feature shiny stars like other favored teams in the World Baseball Classic like Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Team USA, especially after several of the export players decided to skip the 2009 WBC. Pitchers Chan Ho Park (Phillies), Cha Seung Baek (Padres), Jae Kuk Ryu (Padres) and Sun Woo Kim (former MLB, Doosan Bears) will miss the tournament as well as slugging first basemen Seung Yeop Lee (Yomiuri Giants) and Hee Seop Choi (former MLB, Kia Tigers).
The biggest name now on the roster is probably Byung-Hyun Kim, who pitched in the Major Leagues until last spring, when he was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Some expert’s questions if he is in game shape. Jae Seo is another former Major Leaguer on the pitching staff. The offense now will be led by 26-year-old outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians, the only current big leaguer on the provisional roster.
Gold medalist winner Kyung-Moon Kim turned down the offer to coach the Korean team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He will be replaced by In-Sik Kim, who was a coach of the Korean National Team in the 2000 Olympics and the manager in the 2002 Asian Games and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In-Sik Kim is managing the Hanwha Eagles in real life.
No all-stars on the team, doesn’t mean that South Korea will travel home early in the tournament. As usual they can’t rely on their offense to out-score their opponents in the competition. But the pitching and the defense seems strong enough to have a chance to at least repeat their result from 2006 and advance into the final round. The path into the semi-finals looks doable with Cuba and Japan the major threats.
Photo: © IBAF, www.ibaf.org