World Baseball Classic 2017: Korea hopes to overcome past disappointment

From now until the World Baseball Classic begins on March 6, we’ll be helping you get to know each team involved in baseball’s global tournament. Today’s entry: Korea.

For Korea, the story in the World Baseball Classic has been close calls and missed opportunities.

In 2006, Korea made it to the semifinals, only to fall to Japan. Three years later, the dream ended in the WBC Final, again at the hands of Japan. Then, in 2013, a pool-play tiebreaker prevented Korea from advancing beyond the first round and seeking redemption.

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Needless to say, it’s been a pretty painful series of disappointments. Now though, there’s a new opportunity that’s accompanied by new hope and, most importantly, a clean slate.

It won’t be easy, though. The 2017 team will only feature one current major leaguer. That’s St. Louis Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh. The hope is that Korea can make up for the lack of MLB star power with a core of KBO all-stars led by starting pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang and KBO batting champion Hyung-Woo Choi.

It’s a thin roster and perhaps a thinner margin for error if the disappointments from the past creep into the minds of the players, but there’s also an opportunity for new stars to emerge and bigger goals to finally be achieved.

Korea is missing a few of its potential stars for the WBC. (AP)
Korea is missing a few of its potential stars for the WBC. (AP)

Schedule details: Korea will open Pool A play on March 6 against Israel in Seoul, South Korea. The club will follow with games against Netherlands on March 7 and Taiwan on March 9.

’13 Finish: Finished 2-1 in pool play, defeating Australia and Chinese Taipei. Korea’s loss to Netherlands proved costly though as a tiebreaker prevented the team from advancing.

Biggest stars: Seung Hwan Oh or “The Final Boss,” as he’s so awesomely nicknamed, is the man on this team. The Cardinals reliever is coming off an impressive rookie season where he posted a dominant 1.92 ERA over 76 appearances. He even spent some time at closer, earning 19 saves for St. Louis. He’ll be counted on to live up to his nickname during the WBC.

Notable absences: Korea will be without the terrific trio of Shin-Soo Choo, Jung Ho Kang and Hyun Soo Kim. Choo will miss the tournament at the Rangers request, while Kang will be away tending to legal matters stemming from his third DUI arrest. Kim removed himself to focus on making the Orioles roster.

Player you should get familiar with: Hyung-Woo Choi could become a star in this event. A 2016 KBO All-Star and MVP runner-up, Choi posted an absurd .376/.470/.651 batting line to go along with 31 home runs and 144 runs batted in. He also just became the highest paid player in KBO history this offseason, so he’ll definitely have something to prove on this worldwide stage.

Do they have a chance to win?: Probably not, but it would seem foolish to count this team out. Pool A doesn’t appear to have a dominant team, so the door should be open to advance there. Success beyond that will require a team that’s clicking on all cylinders offensively and getting better than expected pitching. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not unlike the MLB postseason where sometimes the hottest team at right time takes it home.

Dae-ho Lee, who played with the Mariners last season, will be a big part of Korea's offense. (AP)
Dae-ho Lee, who played with the Mariners last season, will be a big part of Korea's offense. (AP)

THREE BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT KOREA
Is the pitching staff deep enough? There will be a heavy reliance on KBO all-stars Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jun Jong. Beyond that, it’s pretty thin in terms of proven talent that can reasonably be expected to excel on this level. Looking at Jang and Jong, they posted a 15-6 record with a 3.32 ERA and a 10-12 record with a 3.68 ERA respectively last season. On their own, they’re not exactly a dominant duo, but they’ll determine how far this team goes.

Who are the offensive stars? Beyond the previously mentioned Choi, there’s Dae-Ho Lee. He’s familiar to MLB fans after slugging 14 homers in 104 games for Seattle last season. He’ll be essential to Korea’s success, just as he’s been the last two Classics where he combined to hit .345. Beyond these two, there’s not much star power, but the expectation is some younger talents will step up.

How do they avoid heartbreak again? Given the competition Korea would be forced to overcome in the later rounds, the team almost seems destined for some level of disappointment in this event. Lowering expectations isn’t reasonable either, though, so Korea will have to overachieve and rise to the challenge to end what has been a haunting pattern of coming up just short.

Also in this series:
Australia
Canada
 China
Chinese Taipei
Colombia
Cuba
Dominican Republic 
Israel
Italy
Japan
Mexico
 Netherlands
Puerto Rico
— United States
— Venezuela

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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