Lotte in Home Run Drought
The Giants head into this week in fifth place--a move up from the week before. It's with no thanks to the long ball. Some of that can be attributed to the release of slugger Karim Garcia who protected Lee Dae ho, the best hitter in Korean baseball.
BUSAN, South Korea -- This year the Giants have only 24 homers as a team through 40 games and are averaging about 4 ½ runs per game. That’s down from six per game last season. Even more telling is the fact that the team hit a homer every 25.8 at bats last year. This year? Try one homer every 57 at bats.
DH Hong Seong-heun has had a rough start to his 2011 season. Hong’s OPS is .655. Last year, he slugged .601. What’s happening here? Hong is in his age 34 season, but his skills couldn’t have deteriorated this fast, could they? Probably not, but he’s not drawing very many walks and he’s striking out a lot more. He’s been moved from playing left field in the early months back to the more comfortable DH position. The move to DH should limit the additional wear and tear that he’s put on his body this year.
It looks like Lotte is missing the big Mexican, Karim Garcia, who bashed 85 homers over three seasons with an .858 OPS. Garcia also provided protection in the lineup for Lee Dae-ho and Hong Seong-heun. It could be that Garcia’s importance was vastly underrated by Lotte’s management. Last year not a week went by that Jerry Royster didn’t explain how much having a guy like Karim in the lineup meant to his team and how he didn’t have another player capable of doing what Karim could. This was while Karim battled a myriad of nagging injuries and the KBO umpires.
Lee did something he hadn't done all year in the first game of the series with SK. He threw a quality start. Lee lowered his ERA to 7.65 and his WHIP to an even 2.00. Lee threw seven innings of two-run baseball. Lee gave up seven hits, one walk and one hit batsman, but he didn't manage any strikeouts. He also got a lot of help from the offense in the 8-2 win.
Lotte could only manage a couple of runs against starter Gary Glover and the SK bullpen in the second game and dropped the game 4-2. Ryan Sawoski was the tough luck loser. Sadowski threw 7 2/3 innings, but gave up all four SK runs. Sadowski allowed six hits and one walk while striking out four. Sadwoski was betrayed by his defense when he watched a line drive bounce off of left fielder Hong Seong-heun’s glove for an RBI double in the fifth inning. Ryan just can’t catch a break.
Last week started out great for Lotte. The Giants took two out of three from the SK Wyverns behind some solid pitching from Lee Jae-gon(who knew?) and Jang Won-joon.
Jang Won-joon threw a great game as Lotte won the rubber match, 3-2. Jang tossed 6 2/3 innings and allowed both SK runs. Jang gave up four hits and two walks while striking out one. Jang recorded 11 outs via the fly ball. What’s left of Bryan Corey’s savagely overused arm recorded a two inning save to nail down the W.
A week that started with so many positive feelings saw those hopes dashed after a rough weekend.
Lotte saw the first game against the LG Twins get washed out and proceeded to drop the next two games to the second place Twins.
Saturday’s game was a brutal affair that saw the Twins tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and walk off the Giants in the bottom of the eleventh. The 5-4 final really, really stung.
Lotte starter Goh Won-joon picked up where the bullpen left off on Sunday. Goh was battered for six runs on seven hits and three walks in his 2 ⅓ innings of work. LG was able to cruise to a W after the fast start.
What’s even more troubling than the weekend losses to LG is the offensive issues the Giants appear to be having. Lotte is suffering from a severe power outage this season. Don’t worry. Fortress Sajik doesn’t have anything wrong with it. The Lotte offense should be a source of concern this year.
I hope you brought your calculators with you. It’s about to get nerdy in here.
In 2010, the Giants lived and died with the long ball because, well, they had to. The Giants bashed 185 homers in 133 games last year because they didn’t have the pitching depth to match teams like SK or Doosan and Lotte was fairly undisciplined in the field. Close games were not very friendly to the Giants. The Giants were 14-19 in one-run games and 6-4-3 in extra innings.
Also, infielder/outfielder Kim Ju-chan started the year in the new manager’s dog house and hurt his wrist on April 23rd. Lotte has been using center fielder Jeon Joon-woo as a lead off hitter with good results. Since assuming the lead off role, Jeon’s OBA has gone up over 50 points. Jeon has proven himself as a legit lead off guy and deserves to stay atop the Lotte lineup even when Kim returns.
Third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun has been unable to ditch the struggles that have troubled him since his 18-homer season in 2009. The now 24-year old infielder has been unable to come close to those numbers and its starting to look like he simply isn’t capable of returning to that level.
The Giants return home to Fortress Sajik as they start the week with three games against the hated Samsung Lions from Daegu. Lotte will travel to Kwangju for three games with the KIA Tigers over the weekend. The Giants are currently a half game behind KIA for the fourth and final playoff spot. No time like the present guys.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.
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