2020 Taiwan Series Preview: Brothers vs Uni-Lions
Whew, you have survived! If you’re reading this you have somehow made it through six long and agonizing days between the Lions being crowned second-half champs and the start of the 2020 CPBL Taiwan Series.
In a tantalizing and emotional finish that came down to the very last game of the regular season, the Uni Lions clinched their 14th half-season championship in team history, setting the stage for their OG Taiwan Series (both teams have been in CPBL since inaugural season) matchup against the first-half champions CTBC Brothers.
The series is finally set to start Saturday, October 31 at 5:05 pm Taiwan time (Saturday, 5:05 am EST) with the Brothers hosting the visiting Lions (full schedule below – don’t forget to adjust for daylight savings in the US!). Yes, we just witnessed one of the most competitive and entertaining (and uh hum, clean) World Series matchups in recent memory but that came to a close on Wednesday when the Dodgers hoisted their first trophy since 1988 (and then Justin Turner promptly ruined it).
Our attention now turns to how we survive another dreadful winter without baseball. Look no further, at least for the next week, than the ever-surprising CPBL where anything (Esmil Rogers and Brock Dyxhoorn in game 1 – what the heck?!) can happen.
In an attempt to help international fans gear up for the Taiwan Series, I’ve put together this preview. Nothing fancy, nothing as pro as Rob at CPBL Stats (thank you, Rob, for posting). Just one fan sharing his love and thoughts on baseball with other fans around the world. If you’d prefer an audio version, then hop on over to Rants with Danny Shih’s podcast.
If you have a question or particular topic related to the series you would like answered or covered, please do let me know and I’ll try my best to find out (I’ll probably just ask @RWang_WBSC). @hsumongous on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First, let’s take a look at the season series when the Lions and Brothers have played head-to-head. These numbers are usually significant in any series but especially so in the CPBL as the two teams have already played each other 40 times this year! So let’s dive in!
Season Series: Brothers 22-1-17
The Brothers absolutely owned the Lions in the first half, winning 16 of 20 games and at one point, an absurd 11 in a row. That number took a drastic one-eighty during the second half with the Lions coming out on top 13 of the 20 games (one tie), including the last three times the two teams met. An interesting fact – the Brothers clinched the first half when they beat the Lions 6-1 on July 14 in Tainan. More than three months later, the Lions returned the favor by beating the Brothers 3-2 on the same field to clinch the second half.
The Brothers own a team .304 batting average against the Lions with an ERA of 4.58. At home (G1 on Brothers territory), they are 34-1-25 with virtually an identical .303 average to go along with an ERA over half a run lower at 3.92. With a left-handed heavy lineup, their average against right-handed pitchers is surprisingly lower than against southpaws (.300 vs .323).
The Lions team average against the Brothers is a pedestrian .276 with an even more uninspiring 6.11 ERA. Opening the series in Taichung doesn’t help matters with similar numbers of .278 BA and 6.31 ERA (8-1-11 record). Their stat line against righties versus lefties makes the Brothers decision to start Rogers in game 1 even more confounding…312 batting average and an opposing pitchers ERA of 6.15 against righties. Those numbers drop to a .251 AVG and opposing pitchers ERA of 4.05 against lefties. No matter how you slice it, not starting de Paula in G1 is near the “take Snell out in the sixth” decision of the Rays.
— CPBL 中華職棒 (@CPBL) October 29, 2020
How They Got Here: Brothers
Proponents of the philosophy that pitching wins championships will be quick to point out the superiority of the Brothers pitching staff this year. From their stable of frontline import pitchers to their 泡麵組 (Instant Noodle Relief Corp – they finish off games before your instant noodles are ready) at the backend of the bullpen, the Brothers pitching staff, spearheaded by pitching coach and former major leaguer John Foster, has led the league in virtually every statistical category.
Their team ERA of 4.20 is a full run lower than the next best staff (Guardians 5.24 ERA) and more than a run and a half lower than the Lions ERA of 5.84 (worst in the league). They have the lowest WHIP, allowed the fewest runs, earned runs, home runs, and hits, and have struck out the most batters (2nd in base on balls issued). It’s not just that they led the league in these categories, it’s by a wide margin. For example, their earned runs allowed this season sits at 504. The next closest is over 100 runs more at 617 for the Guardians. The Lions have allowed a league-high 697 earned runs.
Following a bumpy start to the season where he lost his first five decisions, something clicked for José de Paula in mid-May and he has not looked back, reeling off nine straight wins and ultimately winning the triple crown for pitching and most likely Pitcher of the Year (led the league in wins – 16, ERA – 3.20 and strikeouts – 192).
He is followed by the highest-paid import pitcher in CPBL history and former Seattle Mariner, Ariel Miranda (25 starts, 10-8 record, 3.80 ERA, 1.34 WHIP). Miranda has been, for the most part, consistent all season and recorded a quality start in seven of his final 10 outings.
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) July 5, 2020
Esmil Rogers was atrocious to start the season and was on the roster only because Mitch Lively was injured. Rogers was demoted in mid-May (7.79 ERA at the time) when Lively was ready to return and that proved to be a key run for the Brothers first-half championship. Lively promptly won six of seven decisions before succumbing to a shoulder injury, giving Rogers new life. And boy did he take advantage.
On his way to August Pitcher of the Month, Rogers, during one stretch, gave up only seven earned runs across 55.1 IP (1.14 ERA). Tack on Huang En-Shi, arguably the league’s premier local starter (9-2, 4.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP), and you have yourself a darn good crop of starters.
The bullpen has been just as valuable, if not more, as the starters. The key guys acting as a bridge to closer CC Lee (1-3, 24 SV, 3.86 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) consists of Tsai Chi-Che (12 holds), Wu Chun-Wei (24 holds), and Cheng Kai-Wen (15 holds).
Cheng is a battle-tested veteran that’s been there, done that. Tsai and Wu, however, are more unknown entities come playoff time. Tsai, a former starter, made a career high 52 appearances this year (34 in the first half) and it showed as he hit the DL for about a month from September to October and has not been the same pitcher as the first half. Wu, who is only 21, has been in high leverage situations all season long but everything ratchets up a notch in the postseason and how will he respond to the pressure under the bright lights?
The Brothers offense has been no slouch either but not nearly as dominant as their pitching. In terms of ranks, they were second in batting average, slugging percentage, and hits (of course to the Monkeys). They did lead the league in walks and whiffed the least out of the four teams while being tied with the Lions in homers at 403 apiece. Aside from leadoff man Wang Wei-Chen, no other player reached double-digit steals (Wang had 17 SB, 71 combined the previous two years) so the running game is more of a timely, not big, threat.
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) July 11, 2020
In my opinion, the key to the Brothers offense has been the resurgent year of 16-year veteran Chou Szu-Chi. The former league-MVP set a career high in homeruns (22) and slugging percentage (.589) at the tender age of 38 (turned 39 this past Monday) and provided key hits all season long. Outfielder Chan Tzu-Hsien had another solid year by batting .333 with 20 long balls and reaching 80 RBI for the first time in his young career.
The emergence of first basemen Hsu Chih-Hong was another piece to the puzzle as he had a career year replacing injured verteran slugger Lin Chih-Sheng. Hsu solidified his place in the lineup with his long uppercut swing yielding 19 home runs, 65 RBI, and a .322 average.
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) October 2, 2020
The most surprising year offensively (and defensively for that matter) for the Brothers without a doubt came from 20-year old shortstop Chiang Kun-Yu. He replaced a Brothers stalwart, Wang Sheng-Wei, at short and did so admirably, collecting 122 hits (3rd on team), 61 runs, 44 RBI, and a .309 batting average. If not for the monster season by Lions sensation Lin An-Ko, Chiang would be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.
How They Got Here: Lions
Any discussion about the Lions 2020 season starts and ends with the three young cubs patrolling the outfield: Su Chih-Chieh, Chen Chieh-Hsien, and Rookie of the Year favorite Lin An-Ko.
The trio are littered across the leaderboard in virtually every offensive category. Chen Chieh-Hsien found a new home in center field this year (great move by Lions staff) allowing him to put his defensive woes at short behind him. That led to leading the offense-oriented CPBL in batting average (.360), hits (174), and on-base percentage (.419). To add to his resume of being the top leadoff man in the league, Chen was also fourth in stolen bases with 21 and second in runs with 99.
Su, already an established slugger, took another step forward in his young career by setting career marks in home runs (28, second in league), RBI (98, second), runs (104, led league), hits (137, sixth), total bases (260, first), slugging percentage (.594, fourth), and walks (57, first). However, as many power hitters do, Su struck out a lot as well with 115 whiffs which was tops in the league.
The real story of the Lions offense this year, however, is half-Argentinian heartthrob (man crush ✅) Lin An-Ko, who as a rookie and former two-way player, burst onto the season this year smashing all kinds of offensive rookie records. Lin slowed down noticeably towards the end of the season going homer-less in his final 11 contests but his overall body of work this season is impressive to say the least. Lin’s 99 RBI and 32 bombs were numero uno this year. He was fourth in runs, seventh in hits, second in total bases, fifth in slugging percentage, and second in walks. Lin still has aspirations of pitching in the future but please, AK-77, stick to the lumber!
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) August 21, 2020
In addition to the numbers, what’s nice about the Lions outfielders is their lineup flexibility. Chen is a lock to be in the top spot but Su and Lin have batted all throughout the order. With all three of them being left-handed, being able to hit anywhere allows first-year manager, Lin Yueh-Ping, to split them up with his right-handed hitting corp.
That detail becomes magnified when you consider the left-handed duo of the Brothers (de Paula and Miranda), whom Su and Lin have struggled against this year. Lin is 6-for-26 (.231) against de Paula and 3-for-18 (.167) when facing Miranda. Su is a respectable .273 (6 hits in 22 AB’s) versus Miranda but has been owned by de Paula, collecting just one hit in 22 AB’s (.045 AVG)! This could be the key to the series with the Lions having to face Miranda and de Paula a total of four times in the series (but not G1…yes, still in shock).
It seems like eons ago when the Lions import pitching staff consisted of Josh Roenicke, Donn Roach, Ryan Feierabend, and Logan Darnell. Roenicke departed about a month ago with an injury, leaving Brock Dykxhoorn, Teddy Stankiewicz, and Tim Melville. The three seem to be the right mix chemistry-wise for the Lions, which cannot be understated for any team’s locker room. Melville’s MVP dance is well-documented and Dykxhoorn and Stankiewicz (spell-check please!) have come up big in key situations. None of them have the flash and raw stuff that the Brothers starters have but all three are capable of grinding out starts, keeping you in the game, and positioning you to win.
The Canadian-born Dyxhoorn has been here the longest, making 12 starts en route to a 5-3 record, 5.68 ERA, and 1.39 WHIP. He should be starting game 3 behind Melville and Stankiewicz who have both fared much better against the Brothers.
Melville, who made seven starts for the Rockies in 2019, hasn’t won against the Brothers but has a very-good-for-the-CPBL 3.57 ERA in a limited 17.2 innings of work. Stankiewicz has been straight up lights out facing the men in yellow and should be the game 1 starter on Saturday. How about three games, three wins, 16 K, 11 hits, and 0 earned runs in 17.2 IP, including the clincher over the Brothers a week ago?
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) October 7, 2020
Numbers-wise, the Lions bullpen is decent. The duo of Cheng Chun-Jen and Huang Chun-Yen have combined to make over 120 appearances, accumulating 29 holds. Cheng has a 4.18 ERA while Huang’s is slightly higher at 4.31. What concerns me is their relative inability to strike guys out paired with their high WHIP’s 1.57 and 1.42. That means they both allow a lot of traffic on base which is a recipe for disaster, especially under the playoff microscope.
The bullpen is anchored by closer Chen Yun-Wen, who tied Brothers closer CC Lee to lead the league in saves (23). Chen has been the Lions stopper for several years now and even tested the international waters last off-season by trying to go to Japan and the US. Good thing he came back because his shiny 2.09 ERA and 1.09 WHIP will undoubtedly be called upon if the game is close, probably for multiple innings. Chen throws hard and has really improved his control the past few seasons.
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) May 25, 2020
One key factor stabilizing the Lions bullpen will be legendary Pan Wei-Lun. The all-time CPLB leader in wins has transitioned to the relief corp but will make invaluable contributions emotionally and mentally for the bullpen. It’ll be a different story should he get into a game (I hope not…) but a veteran presence with experience will go a long way.
CPBL Broadcaster Predictions
No preview would be complete without some “expert” predictions. So I polled our broadcast crew along with Liu Chia-Hao, Monkeys first base coach, to see who would win. I asked them the same six questions:
- Who has the better offense?
- Who has the better pitching staff?
- Key players for each team
- What are you most looking forward to in the series?
- Key fact/stat fans need to know
- Who will win and in how many games?
- Brothers. Had a .838 OPS as a team this season. Lions only .811 OPS. Even if limited to just the second half, Brothers .788 OPS is still better than Lions .775 OPS. The key is the on-base percentage, where Brothers’ .369 led the league, while Lions’ .358 only beat Guardians.
- Brothers EASILY. By far the best bullpen, posted a 3.99 ERA, which dwarfs the other three teams (Lions 5.27, Guardians 6.11, Monkeys 6.14). Also much better foreign starters
- Brothers: 許基宏 (Hsu Chih-Hung), 周思齊 (Chou Su-Chih), Esmil Rogers. Two main lefty bats must produce against Lions’ RHP, especially if 張志豪 (Chang Chih-Hao) can’t play. Lions’ outfield bats feast on RHP, so Rogers being the only RH foreign starter, must rely on his big curveball to contain Lions’ lefty bats. Lions: When facing LHP, 陳鏞基 (Chen Yung-Chi) and 郭阜林 (Kuo Fu-Lin). When facing RHP, 陳傑憲 (Chen Chieh-Hsien), 蘇智傑 (Su Chih-Chieh), 林安可 (Lin An-Ko). Also, Lions should seriously consider benching Su against de Paula and Miranda.
- C.C. Lee slamming the door in three or four games.
- Both teams hit 143 home runs in the regular season. Brothers had significantly more doubles (league-best 258) than Lions (league-worst 211) but Lions had ten more triples (25 vs. 15). Brothers led the league with 403 walks (Lions second with 390) and Lions led the league with 76 HBP (Brothers second with 67).
- We will see yellow ribbons flying in Tainan (games 3-5).
- Chen Chieh-Hsien (Uni-Lions) and Hsu Chi-Hung (Brothers).
- Uni-Lions pulling off an underdog story by taking down the Brothers elite rotation.
- Uni-Lions’ batting stats against LHP, it’s been their achilles’ heel so far this season. Brothers potential firepower instability with Hollywood (Chang Chih-Hao) out of commission with injury.
- Brothers in 6 games.
- I don’t think there is a great deal in it especially based upon the 2nd phase.
- Brothers have Ariel Miranda and Jose DePaula who have dominated the Lions. Yet, Melville and Stankiewicz have really started to come into their own recently. Brothers bullpen slightly better with both closers dominant this year.
- DePaula and Miranda for Brothers, Melville and Stankiewicz for Lions. Offensively, focus more on Lions left handers. Chou Su-Chi and Chang Chih-Hao (injured) for Brothers.
- Game 1, I have no expectations as a Lions fan. A split first weekend in Taichung would be nice.
- Lions southpaws v Miranda and DePaula, Lions 4 main outfielders are lefties with a BA over .300.
- Brothers in 5.
- Lions American pitchers and Brothers’ 詹子賢 (Chan Tzu-Hsien).
- Lions outfielders hitting against brothers formidable rotation.
- Su Chih-Chieh and Lin An-Ko struggling against left handed pitching.
- Brothers in 6
- Jose de Paula and 郭阜林 (Kuo Fu-Lin).
- How imported players dominate
- 張志豪 (Chang Chih-Hao) uncertain return, Lions’ batter dealing with southpaws.
- Brothers in 6
- Lions. The Lions are top heavy with a weak bottom, also it’s well noted they struggled all year against lefties. They did show their clutch a lot of the time with RISP. The Brothers can pile on runs like nobody’s business, but they’re not clutch besides Stevie, they’re capable and need to stuff the bases with runners and hope eventually they break through every night.
- Brothers, and I don’t think it’s close. Besides closer, I would pretty much pick every Brother in their role over their Lions counterpart.
- (Avoiding the obvious picks) It was just announced that shortstop Lin Tzu-Chieh will be on the roster. The Lions defense is a plus with him as a centerpiece, but without him the defense takes a huge step back. On the Brothers side I would pay close attention to whoever hits behind Stevie, that’s often Chan Tzu-Hsien, what kind of protection does he provide for the cleanup hitter?
- I hope to see a low scoring affair where the pitching is getting the best of the hitters. I would guess the hitters have the jitters while we’ve seen the foreign pitchers find a different gear in the last two weeks. The MVP will likely be a starter, but the key to winning the series will be the crucial stroke of the bat.
- This is the fourth season where the Lions and Brothers took the half season and will face off in the Taiwan Series / CPBL Championship. The first half champs win the title 15/28 times (minus two seasons without the halves) whereas the second half champs win 18/28 times (included are the 7 times both halves were won by the same team). The top overall season winning percentage team, in this case the Brothers, have won 18 out of 30 titles.
- Brothers in 6 games.
Liu Chia-Hao (Monkeys first base coach)
- Lions, because there is more continuity in their lineup enabling more strategy for the coaching staff.
- Brothers, their import pitchers and bullpen have been stable and consistent all season long.
- Hsu Chih-Hung (Brothers) and Kuo Fu-Lin (Lions).
- Brothers in 6 games (4:2)
Yours Truly (@hsumongous)
- Brothers…even without Chang Chih-Hao. I’m taking experience over the numbers here, especially in the playoffs. The Brothers have been runner-ups in five of the past six seasons. They’ve gathered enough experience and heartache that the left-handed heavy offensive lineup will easily overwhelm the three right-handed Lions import pitchers.
- Brothers, duh! They’ve been at it all season long. No reason why it won’t continue in the Taiwan Series.
- For the Brothers, I’m picking whoever hits in the 2-hole for first-year manager Chiu Chang-Rong. Wang will get on base with regularity so the second guy in the lineup will be the key to a fluid lineup and letting the middle of the order do their thing. For the Lions, Wu Chieh-Jui. He’s right-handed and he’s an underrated hitter BUT, he’s been out of action for nearly a month. When healthy, I would give him the nod over veteran Kao Kuo-Ching and Pan Chieh-Kai (left-handed), who has been getting most of the starts at first while Wu was out. You could also pick any member of the Lions bullpen that chooses to step up during the playoffs because I am not expecting the Lions starters to go very deep.
- A sweep. Yes, I’m predicting that the Brothers will dominate in every facet of the game and make this a rather mundane series. I’m also calling two wins by the Brothers by a margin of 6+ runs.
- All stats will go out the window! It’s the playoffs! Ha, so much for this preview. =)
- See answer to number 4.
Taichung Mayor, Lu Hsiu-Yen, and Taiwan Vice President, Lai Ching-Te predictions…
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) October 29, 2020
— CPBL 中華職棒 (@CPBL) October 28, 2020
So that’s a wrap. Sorry this is so long and thank you for dredging through it.
Thanking International Fans
Thank you fans, for following the CPBL this year. Special shout out to @MichaelBarra, @NCIBPodcast, @infieldflygrl, @UrbanHermit12, @olisamir, @journalist_not, @Redfox1701, @mikenyland, @EthanGotYolks, @OSBuckeye, and @chenamber for your dedicated support. I’m sure I missed someone…thank you!
And I would be remiss not to deeply thank @ElevnSportsTW and @CPBL for providing English broadcasts to international fans.
Now sit back and enjoy the show!
About the Author
Clive used to operate the CPBL English website and has done work with the CTBA and the Dodgers as an interpreter. In 2020, he became one of the English commentators for Eleven Sports Taiwan. You can find Clive on Twitter @hsumongous.