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The Doosan Bears will look to do the impossible on Thursday as they take on the NC Dinos in the Wildcard Series, a do-or-die shot at staying alive in the playoffs that no fifth-place team has ever won.
The Bears head south to Changwon in South Gyeongsang to face the Dinos in the opening game of the Wildcard Series Thursday, a three-game series shortened to two that NC enter with a one-game advantage after finishing in fourth to Doosan’s fifth in the regular season.
That means that anything other than two straight victories means game over for the Bears and an immediate ticket to the playoffs for the Dinos.
With the odds so heavily stacked against the fifth-place team, not a single one has made it to the playoffs proper since the introduction of the system in 2015.
Four teams have taken the Wildcard spot over the eight years since the system started; the Kia Tigers three times, the SK Wyverns, now the SSG Landers, twice, the Kiwoom Heroes twice and the Dinos once.
Of those teams, only the Tigers in 2016 and the Heroes in 2021 have ever managed to reach the second game of the series.
The Wildcard started off exciting enough. The opening series in 2015 saw the Wyverns face the Nexen Heroes, now Kiwoom, in an extra-innings nail biter that saw the two teams tied on 3-3 until the 11th inning, when the Wyverns scored a run at the top of the inning only for the Heroes to get two at the bottom.
A year later the Tigers beat the Twins 4-2 in the opener, pushing the series to two games for the first time, but lost 1-0 in a quiet second game.
Things quietened down after that. In 2017 the Wyverns lost 10-5 to the Dinos, with Kia taking a similar 10-6 loss to the Heroes the following year. The Twins beat the Dinos 3-1 in 2019, returning a year later to beat the Heroes 4-3 in a very protracted 13-inning game in 2020.
In 2021 the Heroes beat the Bears 7-4 in the opening game to stay alive in the competition, but the Bears returning with a vengeance the following day to win 16-4. That year was the only time the Bears have appeared in the series, making this year their first time in the disadvantaged fifth-place spot.
Last year the Wiz beat the Tigers 6-2, ending the series in one game for the sixth time.
History suggests the Bears will have to pull off something spectacular if they want to be the first team to beat the Wildcard curse this year.
Looking back on the regular season, there’s little to separate the two teams this year. The Dinos edged out the Bears by a single game to take fourth, winning five of their last 10 to the Bears four of their last 10.
They have a perfectly split 8-8 head-to-head record this season, although if that repeats itself in the Wildcard it would still mean the end of the season for the Bears.
The Wildcard Series will kick off on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Changwon NC Park in Changwon. A second game, if needed, will follow immediately on Friday. The first round of the playoffs proper will then begin on Sunday.
Wednesday, October 18, 2023