Perhaps foreshadowing two rounds of playoff victories, the Kiwoom Heroes of Seoul turned the best 2019 season for the Korean baseball lineal championship.
The KBO League put on a thrilling pennant race for South Korean baseball fans in 2019, with the top three teams finishing within two games of each other.
The difference mattered dearly for the teams that came up short, due to the KBO's step-ladder playoff system, in which the team that wins the regular season only has to win one playoff series to claim the championship, while the second-place club has to win two series, the third-place club has to win three and the fourth- and fifth-place clubs have to win four.
At the top of the standings was a tie between the Doosan Bears of Seoul and the SK Wyverns of Incheon, each at 88-55 with a draw. Crucially, the Bears won the tiebreaker with a 9-7 head-to-head record against the Wyverns. The third-place club, the Kiwoom Heroes of Seoul, finished 86-57 with one draw. (In the KBO League, a game is drawn if it isn't decided within 12 innings.)
So, here's how to run playoffs in a way that makes the regular season seriously matter, while also putting half of the teams in the playoffs (five of the 10 KBO League clubs qualify). In the KBO League, the first round of playoffs pits the fourth-place club against the fifth-place club. This is called the Wild Card Game, but it's really a best-of three series in which, perhaps, only one game will be played. The fourth-place club is spotted a 1-0 lead and needs only a win or a draw to advance. The fifth-place club needs two wins. And it's played at the home of the fourth-place club.
In 2019, the fourth-place club, the LG Twins of Seoul, took down the fifth-place NC Dinos of Changwon, 2-0, advancing to the next round against the third-place Heroes in what's called the Semi-playoff. It's a best-of-five series. The Heroes finished it in four games and moved on to a meeting with the second-place Wyverns in what's called the Playoff round. Here, again, the Heroes prevailed, this time with a three-game sweep.
Finally, we reached the Korean Series, in which the Bears, the regular-season champs, took on the team that survived the step ladder, the Heroes. Best-of-seven series. But the Bears swept it out in four, claiming their second straight KBO League title.
Anyone looking at these outcomes can agree that the Bears won the regular season and the playoffs without being clearly the best team in the KBO League. The results on these pages support those suspicions.
So far as the Korean traveling championship is concerned, the Heroes clearly were the better team. Though they won only two championships, the Heroes defended them 14 times and rolled up 35 games with the championship. By the time the Twins retired the Heroes in a split double-header on Sept. 12, the Kiwoom squad already had winning results in the bag.