The KIA Tigers head into their final home two-game series after being eliminated from the top five. With Lee Yi-ri announced as the starter for the first game, it will be interesting to see if ‘big pitcher’ Yang Hyun-jong will take the mound for the final home game as originally scheduled. Can KIA manager Kim Jong-guk succeed in sprinkling the top five with the beauty of Yoo Jong-soo this season?

KIA’s chances of qualifying for the top five were effectively dashed on Oct. 13 when they lost 1-3 against the Doosan Bears in Jamsil. With two games in hand, Doosan needed to win all four of their remaining games to set up a dramatic fifth-place matchup. 스포츠토토

However, Doosan’s 3-2 win over the LG Twins in Jamsil on the 14th also eliminated KIA’s only remaining best-of-five option. KIA will close out the season with a two-game series at home against the Gwangju NC Dinos on the 16th and 17th.

KIA had a major goal this season: to enter the fall baseball season in a position higher than last year’s fifth-place finish. The team’s bats exploded in the summer after Na Sung-beom and Kim Do-young returned from season-opening injuries, but the injury bug struck again in the final stretch of September. Outfielders Na Sung-bum (hamstring) and Choi Hyung-woo (collarbone fracture) and infielder Park Chan-ho (ulnar fracture) all went down within a short period of time. The loss of three of the team’s top hitters significantly reduced the team’s batting lineup.

Still, KIA held on by the skin of its teeth and continued to fight for the top five. Before the game against Doosan on the 13th, KIA head coach Kim Jong-guk said, “We were able to come this far because the remaining players did so well while the main players were out with injuries. There are quite a few players who are playing with nagging injuries. However, I am very grateful as a coach to see the team stick together like this and try to win until the end.”

Despite being eliminated from the Top 5 even before the final shot was thrown, the KIA bench is expected to play its original starting rotation. Kia announced Lee Yi-ri to take the mound against the Gwangju NC on the 16th. Following Lee Yi-ri, who is looking for his 12th win of the season, Yang Hyun-jong is expected to pitch in the season finale against Gwangju NC on the 17th.

If he takes the mound in the final game of the season, he will win nine games and reach 170 innings for the ninth consecutive year. Yang has pitched 164 innings this season and needs six more innings to reach 170.

In the end, KIA is in a position to reap the rewards of Yoo’s beauty while simultaneously peppering NC with peppers. NC will finish the season in third or fourth place, depending on the outcome of their two series against KIA. If KIA manages to catch NC, top-five contenders SSG and Doosan will have something to smile about. It will be interesting to see what KIA can do against NC.