BUSAN, South Korea- There was baseball this week? Seriously? They didn't suspend the season so nothing would take people's attention away from the national team of awesome, running circles around the Greeks. Well, if the KBO wants to embarrass itself with low turnout, then by all means, proceed.
The Lotte Giants had a week that diehards have been waiting all season for. The Giants rattled off a nine-game unbeaten streak that started last Thursday against the LG Twins and ended this Sunday. The Giants outscored their opponents 75-20 during the stretch. The Giants have clawed their way back to a .500 record and are so close to a playoff spot that they can literally taste it. It tastes sweet; unlike fifth place. Fifth place tastes stale…and bitter and well, I'll leave the analogy at that.
The Giants opened the week with a 2-2 tie against Cameroon. Wait. Wrong schedule. The Giants opened the week with a 2-2 tie against Nexen. I'm not sure which is more shocking, that Lotte didn't eventually hit a home run or that the Lotte bullpen threw five shutout innings. Lotte starter Cho Jeong-hoon tossed six innings of one-run ball, scattering five hits and three walks while striking out three. This was a big bounce back start for Cho. The press was starting to speculate that he had a hidden injury. So much for that theory.
Lotte decided to avoid suffering the embarrassment of a tie in baseball by hitting lots of baseballs where the Nexen fielders couldn't reach them. Lotte left fielder Son Ah-seop hit leadoff last night and lead the Lotte offense. Son finished the evening 2 for 3, with a walk, a lead off homer to start the game, three RBIs and two runs scored. Lotte outfielder Jeon Joon-woo chipped in with a 3-5 effort. Jeon tripled, drove in two runs, scored three times and stole a base. Lee Dae-ho drove in a couple runs and Hong Seong-heun drove in and scored one run, but the Lotte bats were surprisingly silent during the 13-3 drubbing of the Nexen Heroes. Lotte starter Ryan Sadowski used the run support to earn his fifth win of the season. Sadowski tossed eight innings and gave up three runs on nine hits and one walk. Sadowski managed to strike out five Nexen Heroes.
The Giants remembered how much fun it was to hit home runs on Thursday. The Lotte 4-5-6 hitters combined for five homers. Third baseman Lee Dae-ho went 2-5 with two homers, four RBIs and two runs scored. Karim Garcia went 2-4 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs scored. Catcher Kang Min-ho went 3-4 with a double, two homers, three RBIs and two runs scored. Starting pitcher Lee Jae-gon could be the missing link in the Lotte rotation. The Giants have really struggled when guys not named Sadowski, Cho, Jang or Song take the mound. Lee isn't the greatest pitcher in the KBO, but he's done a solid job of keeping the Giants in games and eating up innings so Jerry Royster doesn't have to dip into the shallow end of the Lotte bullpen. Lee remains unbeaten at 2-0. He threw 8 2/3 innings and gave up five runs. Lee allowed ten hits, one walk and one hit batsman while striking out five.
The Giants picked up two more wins at Fortress Sajik over the weekend, while most of the country was watching grown men kick slippery balls around parts of South Africa. Actually, Giants fans should be proud. Despite the events in South Africa, Sajik Stadium was either full or close to full for most of the weekend. Even on Saturday when some of the other teams in the KBO appeared to have all of fifteen people in attendance.
The series started with a quality effort from Lotte starter Jang Won-joon in the 7-2 romp over the Eagles. Jang threw seven innings of two-run baseball. He scattered seven hits and one walk while striking out six. Hanhwa never really mounted much of a rally against Jang. The only time they got to him was when Hanhwa second baseman Jang Won-seok and left fielder Choi Jin-haeng hit solo homers off of him. Lee Dae-ho lead the Lotte offense on Friday. Lee hit a three-run homer in the first inning and added an RBI single in the sixth. Lee finished 3-4 with four RBIs and one run scored. Outfielders Karim Garcia and Jeon Joon-woo also added solo homers.
The Lotte faithful also got a look at Hanhwa Eagles Dominican starter Jose Capellan. Capellan has made fourteen starts in the KBO and he's won none of them. Capellan's record sits at 0-11. He's currently sporting an ERA just south of 9.00 and a WHIP that's north of 2.00. If Capellan is allowed to complete the season in an Eagles uni, he could be historically bad. At his current pace, he could be making a run at the league record for losses. The league record of 25 was set in 1985 by Jang Myeong-buh of the now defunct Sammi Superstars. Jang, incidentally, also holds the season record for wins with 30 W's in 1983.
Lotte continued the series with a dominating effort on World Cup Saturday. If you were watching, you would have seen starter Song Seung-joon and a trio of Lotte relievers combined to throw a five hit shutout of the Eagles. Song threw seven innings while earning his seventh victory of the season. Song gave up only four hits and one hit batsman while striking out seven. At the plate for the Giants, outfielder Jeon Joon-woo hit another solo homer in the second inning to put Lotte on the scoreboard. Lotte backup first baseman Park Jong-yoon got a rare start and did something with it. Park went 2-4 with a double and two RBIs.
Hanhwa finally put the Giants back in the loss column on Sunday. Hanhwa needed a three-run rally in the third inning and 7 1/3 innings of scoreless relief from their bullpen to get the job done. The Giants were facing a 2-0 deficit in the second inning, but they took the lead with a four-run rally. Lee Dae-ho started the inning with a lead off single. Karim Garcia then hit a bomb to left-center for a two-run homer. Lotte continued the rally by putting runners on first and third with no outs. Outfielder Jeon Joon-woo hit a sac fly to deep center to score the runner from third. With two outs and a runner on third, Hanhwa starter Yang Seung-jin uncorked an unbelievably wild pitch and the runner could have crawled home. Hanhwa was still facing a 4-2 deficit in the third inning when left fielder Choi Jin-haeng clubbed a two-run homer to tie the game at four.
Later in the inning, Hanhwa had two outs and a runner on second when third baseman Song Kwang-min singled to right to score the runner from second and break the 4-4 tie. Lotte starter Cho Jeong-hoon didn't look injured, but his stuff was lacking on Sunday. He seemed to struggle with velocity and command. He was removed after the finishing the third inning with only 58 pitches thrown. It's still unclear if his removal was performance-based or due to health concerns. It will be interesting to see if Cho makes his next start.
The Giants continue their quest for a playoff spot against the Samsung Lions at Fortress Sajik during the week. The Giants are 5-2 against the Lions this season and swept the last series they played against the Lions in Daegu. During the weekend, the Giants will travel to Seoul to battle the LG Twins. The Giants are 5-4 in nine games against the Twins this year. The Giants currently sit in fifth place, but they're only 1/2 game in back of the Samsung Lions and KIA Tigers. Samsung and KIA are currently locked in a tie for third place.
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO throughout the week.