Say what you will about wins for pitchers -- how it's an overrated stat and how pitchers have less control of their own destiny than once thought. The term "20-game winner" still has a nice ring to it and carries cachet.
In the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) this season, two hurlers are going for that milestone, and their battle to lead the league in the category is going down to the wire.
Raul Alcantara of the Doosan Bears threw seven shutout innings against the Hanwha Eagles on Tuesday to pick up his 17th win of 2020. The right-hander has now won seven consecutive decisions, dating back to Sept. 1.
Alcantara is now one behind the wins leader, Drew Rucinski of the NC Dinos. Rucinski had won six straight decisions from Aug. 29 to Oct. 4, before the streak was snapped in his most recent start Saturday.
Should they remain in the rotation, both pitchers will likely make three more starts until the conclusion of the regular season on Oct. 30.
That will also depend on their respective clubs' position in the standings. If the league-leading Dinos lock down that spot early -- their magic number is nine -- they will earn a bye to the Korean Series. With no games between the end of the regular season and the start of that championship round, the Dinos will likely send Rucinski to the hill at every regular turn in order to keep him sharp.
The Bears are in fourth place. They could still climb up to as high as second place, but if they end up in fourth or fifth, they'll have to play the wild-card game one or two days after the end of the regular season. Alcantara is expected to get the nod in that opening playoff round, which means he could be held out of his final regular season start.
Alcantara hasn't just been winning games; he has been dominant.
Over his past four starts, Alcantara has only allowed three earned runs in 27 1/3 innings with 31 strikeouts, a stretch that also includes 15 consecutive scoreless innings.
Rucinski has been on a roller coaster of late. He threw seven shutout innings on Sept. 17 but then allowed four runs in six innings in the very next start. He came back with 12 2/3 scoreless innings over his next two starts and then surrendered four runs in 6 1/3 last weekend.
The Bears have had the pitching wins leaders the past two seasons: Seth Frankoff (18 wins) in 2018 and Josh Lindblom (20 wins) in 2019.
Only one other club in league history has had wins leaders in three consecutive seasons. The Haitai (now Kia) Tigers' legend Sun Dong-yol topped the KBO in wins from 1989 to 1991, with 21, 22 and 19 victories.
If Alcantara gets past Rucinski, the Bears would become the first to have three different starters lead the KBO in wins in three straight seasons.
The last Dinos pitcher to lead the KBO in wins was Eric Hacker, who won 19 games in 2015. No NC pitcher has won 20 games in a season. (Yonhap)