MLB Seoul Series Preview: What to Watch When the Dodgers and Padres Kick Off the 2024 MLB Season at the Gocheok Sky Dome

By | March 20, 2024

A week before Opening Day is Opening Day.

On Wednesday morning US time, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will start the 2024 MLB season with a bang, as they line up for the first of two regular season games at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea. It marks the first time MLB will play regular-season games in South Korea, a country where baseball has exploded in popularity in recent decades.

The journey across the Pacific comes at a fascinating time for these two franchises. The Dodgers spent the winter spending huge amounts of money to acquire Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Teoscar Hernandez in free agency, while also expanding the Tyler Glasnow trade into a hefty deal. The Padres, meanwhile, had a tumultuous offseason, marked by the death of team owner Peter Seidler. That led to a tightening of the purse strings, prompting San Diego to ship Juan Soto to New York for a pair of weapons, though the recent addition of Dylan Cease via scholarships shows the Padres still plan to compete in 2024.

And while these first two games seem particularly important given their anomalous place as the only meaningful games on this week’s docket, it’s important to remember that the baseball season is a marathon, and these are just the first two steps. If the Dodgers win 2-0 this week, they won’t get a playoff spot, and an 0-2 trip isn’t cause for total panic either. Remember, the 2019 Oakland A’s dropped both games in Tokyo to the Seattle Mariners during Ichiro’s farewell before finishing the season with 97 wins and a playoff spot. Don’t panic if Ohtani goes 0-for-4 or Fernando Tatis Jr. is caught stealing.

Here are four things to look out for in the Seoul Series.

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Expect a great atmosphere

South Korea’s domestic baseball league, the KBO, is considered the third best baseball league in the world, behind MLB and Japan’s NPB. The circuit exploded in popularity in America during the early days of the pandemic, when lower COVID-19 rates in South Korea allowed the KBO to resume play months before the MLB. Unfortunately, the pandemic-affected empty stadiums failed to reproduce one of the most unique features of Korean baseball: the crowd experience.

Compared to the relaxed, everyday atmosphere of MLB games, KBO games are raucous affairs. There are coordinated fan dances, specific chants for specific players, and “cheer masters” that are sort of souped-up versions of American sports hype squads, except many dress in full uniform and perform on top of dugouts during play.

How that flavor of fandom translates to an MLB game will be fascinating to see — fewer than 7,000 fans attended the Padres’ Monday game against the LG Twins — but the participating teams will certainly help. The Dodgers remain one of the most popular teams in South Korea thanks to Hyun Jin Ryu and Chan Ho Park, the first Korean big leaguer, while the Padres have Ha-Seong Kim, who has been the MLB’s best Korean player in recent seasons. Speaking of which…

[Read more: NL West preview: What’s in store for the Dodgers, D-backs, Padres, Giants and Rockies in 2024?]

Ha-Seong Kim is the homecoming hero

The Padres’ new shortstop — Kim moved there after three seasons at second base — already ranks second all-time in bWAR among Korean position players. He was an average hitter in the league, but the 2023 Gold Glover is so devastatingly good on defense that he has amassed 12.7 bWAR in just 419 games. There were concerns about how Kim’s bat would translate to the MLB when he made the jump ahead of the 2021 season, but the 28-year-old’s offense has improved each season, highlighted by a 17-home run, 110 OPS+ campaign last year.

In San Diego’s exhibition game against the LG Twins on Monday, Kim homered twice in the Gocheok Sky Dome, his old stomping ground with the Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO. And while Kim’s popularity in his home country certainly exceeds that of new Giants center fielder Jung-Hoo Lee, Kim has a chance to make Korean baseball history against the Dodgers.

The pitching matchups are fascinating

There was speculation that opening day in Korea would feature two Japanese pitching superstars, Yu Darvish and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Unfortunately, the Dodgers brought in long-haired charisma geyser and offseason trade acquisition Tyler Glasnow for their first game of the season, and he’ll be the best against Darvish. Glasnow looked wickedly good in spring training and enters the season as a popular NL Cy Young pick as the 37-year-old Darvish looks to bounce back from a topsy-turvy 2023.

Game 2 of the Seoul Series pits Yamamoto against Joe Musgrove, marking the first chance for Ball fans to get a glimpse of LA’s $325 million free-agent signing. The 25-year-old right-hander had an up-and-down spring, but flashed the disgusting raw stuff and untouchable fastball that made him such a hot commodity over the winter. He will face Musgrove, who will be hoping for a much healthier 2024 after playing just 17 games last season.

The time difference is no joke

Both games start at 7:00 PM local time, but since “local” in this case is Seoul, South Korea, that means the first pitch of the 2024 MLB season will be thrown just after 6:00 AM ET/3:00 PM PT. That creates a somewhat unfortunate situation for Dodgers and Padres fans, who either have to stay up very late or get up very early to catch a glimpse of Opening Day. Still, it’s worth getting a taste of a meaningful ball.

This series is part of a larger MLB initiative to bring live MLB regular season games to new destinations and locations around the world. Over the past decade, games have been held in Australia, Tokyo, London and Mexico City, and a planned excursion to Paris was scuttled after MLB failed to find a promoter to help organize the event. Commissioner Rob Manfred has also said he wants to eventually bring regular-season games to the Dominican Republic, where two spring training games took place this month between Tampa Bay and Boston. So stay tuned for more Major League baseball around the world.

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