BUSAN, South Korea – Given the Giants’ improved standing, it’s time to focus on the positives.No more lamenting the power outage or the constant bullpen issues or the defense. Things are looking up in Busan baseball.
The 29 year old reigning 2010 MVP/Triple Crown winner Lee Dae-ho is still the most powerful force in the KBO universe. Lee is slashing .372/.471/.667. He’s actually hitting better than he did during last season and he’s again leading in all the triple crown categories. He’s doing this without Karim Garcia and The Ghost of Hong Seong-heun hitting behind him. He probably won’t reach Lee Seung-yeop 54-56 homer territory, but there’s no reason he can’t top 40 homers again. His attempt to repeat his Triple Crown will be one of the biggest sports stories (in Korea) of the year if he’s at all close in September or August.
Next year he will be his seventh year of service so he can test the free agent waters. Will he jump ship next year and head to Japan? Give it a shot in the states? Who knows?
The Baby Giants have also grown up this year. Players like catcher Kang Min-ho, third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun and outfielders Jeon Joon-woo and Son Ah-seop are no longer playing second fiddle. All four have been expected to contribute every day and all four have stepped up to varying degrees. Kang might be the best catcher in Korea right now.
The Lotte starting rotation goes four deep and will be a tough matchup for anyone come playoff time.
Jang Won-joon has made the leap from innings eater to a guy who can be counted on. Jang’s control has improved and he’s walking fewer batters than ever before. Outs have been easier to come by with fewer runners on base. He’s also done a good job of keeping the ball in the park this year. Power numbers are down for every team in the league, but Jang has only allowed two homers in 69 ? innings this season.
Former Major leaguer Song Seung-joon has continued his Jekyll and Hyde routine, but he’s a solid #2 option behind Jang. He’s cut down on his walks and managed to strike out a few more batters this year. His K:BB ratio is exactly 3.00. Most elite guys are over 2.50. Song is still prone to giving up line drives in bunches though and as a result his ERA is still over 4.00.
21-year old righty Goh Won-joon has looked brilliant at times since moving back to the starting rotation. Other times…not so brilliant. Ryan Sadowski picked up his 2011 where he left off once he returned from an oblique injury that stole April from him.
Lotte started the week by taking two out of three at home from Nexen. The series was a little closer than most Lotte fans woould have like it to be, but a win is a win.
The Giants needed some late inning heroics from Mr. Clutch himself, Kang Min-ho, after the Lotte bullpen allowed Nexen to turn a 7-2 deficit into a 7-7 tie. Kang finished the game 3-5 with a a homer, two runs scored and three RBIs. One of his hits came with runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the ninth to walk off the Heroes.
Lotte took the second game of the series, 5-2, thanks to some solid pitching. Starter Song Seung-joon threw 6 1/3 innings of two-run baseball. Song gave up four hits and three walks while striking out six. Reliever Kang Yeong-sik recorded the final eight outs to earn the save. Kang gave up zero baserunners while striking out three.
The third game of the series was an ugly 11-10 loss for the Giants. Starter Lee Jae-gon was awful, but his defense didn’t do him any favors. Lee was battered for seven runs in his 3 ? innings, but only four were earned. Center fielder Jeon Joon-woo, first baseman Lee Dae-ho and pinch hitter Park Jong-yoon each drove in a pair of runs in a losing effort.
After finishing up with the Heroes, Lotte hosted the LG Twins for three games over the weekend. The Giants dropped the first two games of the series in similar fashion. In both games they took an early lead and in both games pitching and defense utterly fell apart. In the first game, reliever Brian Corey was left to throw 49 pitches and ultimately give up the go-ahead runs in the ninth inning. In the second game, the defense behind Ryan Sadowski gave LG a few extra outs and the Twins made Ryan pay for it with a three-run homer. Then, it was Lim Kyeong-wan’s turn to make things go from bad to worse as he gave up a few more runs to put the game out of reach.
The Lotte offense put the rest of the team on its back on Sunday as the Giants won 11-5 to avoid the sweep. Hwang Jae-gyun continues to show signs of improvement after his poor 2010 season. Hwang went 3-4 with a run scored an three RBIs. Jeon Joon-woo went 2-5 with a double, a homer, one run scored and one RBI. Lee Dae-ho chipped in with a solo homer and a RBI sac fly.
Lotte starter Jang Won-joon threw pretty well, but needed some help from the Lotte bullpen. Jang tossed 5 2/3 inningsof three-run ball(two earned). Jang gave up eight hits and two walks while striking out four. Jang left the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning. Lotte called on reliever Kim Sa-yul to get Jang off the hook…and he struck out first baseman Seo Dong-wook to get out of the jam.
The Giants start the week with a road trip to Daegu to battle the hated Samsung Lions. A great way to catch the Lions in the standing? Sweep this series. Then its back to Fortress Sajik for three games with the lowly Hanhwa Eagles over the weekend.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.