KBO on ESPN schedule, how to watch, teams for the Korea baseball league and more

The regular season for the Korea Baseball Organization, the highest level of baseball in South Korea, is in full swing, making the KBO one of the first major professional sports leagues to return to action during the coronavirus pandemic.

For those just getting familiar with the Korean baseball league, it’s action-packed baseball filled with home runs, bat flips (lots and lots of bat flips), former MLB players and Korean-born stars who could follow the path of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ji-Man Choi from the KBO to major league stardom.

You can watch the action with six regular-season English-language broadcast games per week, airing primarily on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. ET Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 a.m. ET on Saturdays and 1 a.m. ET on Sundays.

KBO on ESPN broadcast schedule

Stream live KBO games and replays on WatchESPN

(All times ET)

Tuesday, May 5

1 a.m.: ESPN — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Live)
3 p.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)

Wednesday, May 6

2:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins (Live)
2 p.m.: ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins (Rebroadcast)

Thursday, May 7

2:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — Doosan Bears vs. LG Twins (Rebroadcast)
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Live)
3 p.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)

Friday, May 8

2:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — NC Dinos vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
5:30 a.m.: ESPN2 — Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions (Live)
3 p.m.: ESPN2 — Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)

Saturday, May 9

1 a.m.: ESPN2 — Kia Tigers vs. Samsung Lions (Rebroadcast)
4 a.m.: ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. NC Dinos (Live)
10 p.m.: ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. NC Dinos (Rebroadcast)

Sunday, May 10

1 a.m.: ESPN2 — LG Twins vs. NC Dinos (Live)

Key links

  • Need a KBO crash course? Our season guide has it all covered

  • The great Korean bat flip mystery | Daily podcast

  • How KBO prepared for the season through COVID-19

  • Could KBO offer blueprint for MLB’s return?

KBO highlights — get ready for some bat flips!

ESPN’s Opening Day KBO Power Rankings

1. Kiwoom Heroes. Must replace 2019 league RBI leader Jerry Sands, who signed with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan.

2. LG Twins. The 1-2 American punch of Casey Kelly and Tyler Wilson leads pitching staff.

3. Doosan Bears. Defending champs lose league MVP Josh Lindblom, who signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

4. SK Wyverns. Lose top two pitchers Kwang Hyun Kim (to St. Louis Cardinals) and Angel Sanchez (to Japan). That would be like losing both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

5. KT Wiz. Youngest pitching staff in league last year.

6. NC Dinos. Led KBO in home runs in 2019.

7. Samsung Lions. Top hitter Darin Ruf has returned to the United States.

8. Lotte Giants. Last year’s worst team has added Dan Straily and Adrian Sampson.

9. Kia Tigers. 2017 champs continue to fall closer to the basement.

10. Hanwha Eagles. Even Warwick Saupold won’t be enough.

Voted on by Alden Gonzalez, Joon Lee and David Schoenfield.

KBO players you need to know

Eui-Ji Yang, C, NC Dinos. American pitcher Josh Lindblom was the 2019 MVP after leading the league in wins, strikeouts and innings and finishing second in ERA, but he signed a three-year, $9.125 contract with the Brewers to return to MLB. That leaves Yang as the top returning player in the MVP vote. The veteran catcher will turn 33 this month, but he hit .354/.438/.574, leading the KBO in all three categories while hitting 20 home runs in 118 games — with more walks than strikeouts. Last year was his first season with the Dinos after spending the first nine seasons of his career with the Doosan Bears.

Hyeon-Jong Yang, LHP, Kia Tigers. The league MVP in 2017, Yang finished third in the 2019 voting after going 16-8 and leading the league with a 2.29 ERA. The 32-year-old lefty fanned 163 in 184⅔ innings and allowed just six home runs. After control problems earlier in his career, he walked just 1.6 per nine innings last season, a career best.

Ha-Seong Kim, SS, Kiwoom Heroes. One of the league’s young stars, Kim hit .307/.389/.491, with 19 home runs, 38 doubles and 33 steals in 37 attempts. Now 24, Kim has been a regular since he was 19 and has been one of the league’s top all-around players. Even with a leaguewide drop in offense in 2019 after changes were made to the ball, Kim improved his OPS by 48 points, making it his best season yet.

Baek-Ho Kang, RF, KT Wiz. Just 20 years old, Kang hit .336/.416/.495 with 13 home runs in 438 at-bats as a teenager last season, although his power dropped from 29 home runs with the deadened ball. Still, his average went up 46 points, and he also showcased solid plate discipline for such a young player, making him the Juan Soto of the KBO, of sorts. Like Soto, Kang also is a sight to see at the plate, with a high leg kick even by Korean standards and some of the best bat flips in the league. He should be in the middle of the Korean lineup at the next World Baseball Classic.

Jeong Choi, 3B, SK Wyverns. One of the league’s great veteran players with 335 career home runs, Choi was a heralded high school pitcher and hitter before finally settling on hitting as a pro. He was a member of World Baseball Classic teams in 2009 and 2013 and led the KOB in home runs in 2016 and 2017. He is 33 but is coming off a season in which he hit .292/.399/.519 with 29 home runs, ranking tied for second in home runs and fourth in OPS.

Byung-Ho Park, 1B, Kiwoom Heroes. Park’s two-year stint with the Minnesota Twins didn’t go so well, as he hit .191 in 215 at-bats (although with 12 home runs) in 2016 and spent all of 2017 at Triple-A. He returned to Korea and remains the top slugger in the league, hitting 43 home runs in 2018 and leading the league with 33 in 2019.

Hyun-Soo Kim, LF/1B, LG Twins. You might remember Kim from his time with the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies in 2016 and 2017. He returned to Korea in 2018 and hit .362 with 20 home runs, but he fell off to .304 and 11 in 2019. He is 32 and one of the biggest names in the league, but he went from fifth in the league in OPS to 25th, so we’ll see if age is catching up to him.

Casey Kelly, RHP, LG Twins. A Red Sox first-round pick back in 2008, Kelly became a top prospect for the Padres. But he had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and bounced around the minors, with some spot appearances in the majors for the Padres, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, before heading to Korea for 2019. He went 14-12 with a 2.55 ERA for the Twins (although 19 unearned runs helped lower the ERA), striking out 126 in 180⅓ innings. Kelly throws a low 90s sinker that helps him get ground balls but doesn’t result in a high strikeout rate. That wasn’t enough to keep him in the majors, but it was effective enough in the KBO. Tyler Wilson, Kelly’s American teammate, also had a good season for the Twins, going 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA and similar peripherals to Kelly.

Jose Miguel Fernandez, 1B/DH, Doosan Bears. Fernandez had a cup of coffee with the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, but he signed with Doosan for 2019 and was one of the league’s best hitters, hitting .344/.409/.483 with 15 home runs while leading the league in hits. Fernandez played some second base and third base for the Angels, but the Cuban’s glove doesn’t really work in the infield except at first base, and he lacks the power to play there in the U.S. He spent most of his time at DH in 2019 for Doosan.

Jamie Romak, 1B, SK Wyverns. The Canada native got 39 plate appearances for the Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 and 2015. Now he heads into his fourth season in the KBO as one of the top sluggers in the league. He hit .276/.370/.508 in 2019 with 29 home runs — after seasons of 31 and 43 homers. Romak brings a three true outcomes approach to the KBO: He ranked second (tied) in home runs, fifth in walks and second (tied) in strikeouts. — David Schoenfield

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