BUSAN, South Korea – The Giants are 83 games into the season. Their 40-41-2 record is just shy of .500 ball, but it is good enough to qualify for the fourth playoff spot. Lotte has fifty games left to either improve their standing or get themselves caught by a team of LG Zombies that simply won't go away.
The Giants had some good, bad and strange news this week. Staff ace Cho Jeong-hoon is going to be out until at least September with an elbow issue. It's going to be a tough injury to overcome but Jerry Royster seems optimistic that Lee Jae-gon and Kim Su-wan will be able to step into the rotation and fill in while Cho is on the mend. Royster told Busan Haps that having two rookies in the rotation is, "not a problem," and it sounded like Royster is really expecting the Giants' young arms to step up over the next month or two.
Additionally, Karim Garcia is suffering from a hand injury that Royster called a "big thing at this time." Garcia left the game early on Friday and missed Saturday's game. The good news is that help could be on the way for the Lotte rotation. Veteran starter Son Min-han is starting a rehab assignment in the Futures League on Wednesday. If all goes well he could be back with the big club soon. A healthy Son Min-han could really help Lotte in the pennant race. The strange news is regarding reliever Kim Sa-yul. Kim is out with a case of pink eye. He's contagious and can't be around the team until he's better.
The Giants started the week with a three game set against the Nexen Heroes. Lotte was facing a 4-3 deficit in the eighth inning on Tuesday when Hong Seong-heun singled to center with a runner on second. The runner was able to score and tie the game, but Hong was thrown out advancing to second. The game was still tied in the bottom of the ninth thanks to Lotte reliever Lim Kyeon-wan pitching through some rough fielding. Lim managed to get a couple ground balls that the Lotte infield converted into outs and leave the inning unscathed.
When asked about Lim Royster said, "I'm not going to worry about who's the closer. If I need a ground ball, I'm bringing in Kyeong-wan." When asked about the absence of last year's closer, Jon Adkins, Royster said, "We miss Jon a lot, but there really isn't a Mariano Rivera-type in this league. Every team has a guy named a closer, but everyone blows saves."
Royster's faith was rewarded on Tuesday. In the bottom of the inning, Lotte center fielder Jeon Joon-woo blasted a two-run walk-off bomb to center against Heroes. I'm sure it felt good for the Giants to walk-off rather than watching an opposing team do it. Jeon's teammates chased him up the first baseline to give him the Korean traditional beat down and Pocari shower.
Seon A-seop after stealing second base against the first place SK Wyverns
Next up was a duel of foreign starters on Wednesday. Adrian Burnside may have earned the W, but Ryan Sadowski had the better outing. Ryan managed to eat up eight innings and keep the shallow end of the Lotte bullpen out of the game. Ryan gave up three runs on three hits, three walks and one hit batsman while striking out two. Sadowski gave up all of his runs early, but managed to keep the game from getting out of hand. The Giants picked up a couple of runs in the sixth inning when outfielder Jeon Joon-woo hit a solo homer and infielder Jeong Bo-myeong hit a sac fly, but the Giants couldn't push across the tying run and Nexen was able to hang on for the win.
The Giants were able to take the series with a win on Wednesday. This time the Giants didn't screw around with late inning heroics or a lights out pitching performance. The Giants brought the thunder in their 10-4 win. Jack Of All Trades Kim Ju-chan and MVP candidate Lee Dae-ho were the heroes against the Heroes that night. Lee blasted a pair of homers while going 2-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Kim Ju-chan went 2-3 with a walk, a homer, four RBIs and two runs scored. Starter Lee Jae-gon took advantage of the run support and turned in a quality effort. Lee tossed seven innings of two-run baseball, giving up five hits and one walk while striking out two. Lee pitches to contact and as long as the Lotte defense holds up, he's fairly effective.
Over the weekend the Giants battled the first place SK Wyverns at Fortress Sajik. The Giants opened the series in almost the exact same way they opened the series with the Nexen Heroes. The score was tied 4-4 heading into the ninth inning. Lotte first baseman Kim Ju-chan lead off the inning with a double to deep center. Lotte sent pinch hitter Moon Gyu-hyeon to the plate and he got himself drilled in the shoulder. Lotte DH HongSeong-heun stepped up next and sent Giants’ fans home happy when he delivered a base hit into left field. Kim was able to score on the play and Hong earned a beating and Pocari shower from his teammates. Lost in the excitement was the performance of the Lotte bullpen. Five Lotte relievers combined to throw four scoreless innings after starter Jang Won-joon was chased from the game during the fifth.
I'd like to write that the Giants' success carried over into Saturday's contest…but I can't. SK starter Goh Hyo-joon was able to eat up innings and keep the Giants off the scoreboard for most of them. Lotte starter Song Seung-joonwas only able to eat up innings. The Wyverns inflicted some early damage thanks to third baseman Choi Jeong and Goh bent but never broke. Goh allowed ten base runners during his six innings of work, but Lotte could only manage a run. Second baseman Cho Seong-hwan lead the Giants offense by going 3-4 with a double and a run scored.
Heavy rains washed over the peninsula on Sunday and half of the KBO slate was washed out. When asked about what goes on in the dugout during rain delays and rain outs, Royster responded simply, "(Team translator) Curtis is busy. The players want a history lesson. I get asked about guys I've played with, guys I've played against. We usually sit around and talk about Major League Baseball."
This week the Giants will play all six games in Seoul. They'll start the week facing the Heroes again and finish it with a trip to Jamsil looking to make up ground on the third place Doosan Bears. Lotte is 4-9-1 against the Heroes and 4-5 when playing the Bears. The Giants are 2.5 games up on the LG Zombies, but 7.5 games in back of the Doosan Bears for third place. This will be a big week.
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO throughout the week.