BUSAN, South Korea — Lotte started the week by splitting a crucial two-game set with the Samsung Lions. The Giants were clicking on all cylinders during a 5-0 win in the first game of the series. Lotte starter Jang Won-joon tossed 6 ? innings of shutout baseball against the first place Lions. Jang gave up six hits, two walks and two hit batsmen while striking out one. Jang was every bit the ace the Giants needed him to be as he changed speeds and kept the Samsung offense off-balance all night.
DH Hong Seong-heun blasted a two-run homer in the second inning and Lotte coasted to an easy win
The Giants looked to take game two of the series, but Samsung tagged starter Goh Won-joon for six runs in the first inning and Samsung came back with an 8-5 win. Lotte had trouble solving Samsung starter Justin Germano, but managed to tag the Samsung bullpen for a few runs. Right fielder Son Ah-seop went 3-4 with a double and three RBIs. Sadly, it was too little, too late.
Hong Seong-heun (left) celebrates a homer with teamates.
Lotte headed to Cheongju for a two-game series with the lowly Hanwha Eagles. Lotte needed to take both games of this series to stay ahead of the surging SK Wyverns in the battle for second. Lotte took the first game 12-7. The Lotte offense battered Hanwha starter Kim Hyeok-min for eight runs in his five innings of work. Second baseman Cho Seong-hwan went 2-5 with a double and three RBIs. Left fielder Kim Ju-chan, DH Hong Seong-heun and catcher Kang Min-ho each drove in a pair of runs.
Starter Ryan Sadowski cruised for seven innings of two-run baseball. The Lotte bullpen was lit for five runs after Sadowski made his exit. The problem was that it wasn’t the shallow end of the bullpen that got lit up. Lotte used all four regular relievers in this one and most of them ran into trouble.
Lotte again looked to take the series and maintain their grip on second place, but the Giants dropped the second game in a 12-10 slugfest. Slugger Lee Dae-ho punished the Hanwha Eagles for three homers while going 4-5 with six RBIs and three runs scored. Hanwha beat up on Chris Bootcheck for six runs in his 1 ? innings of work. Bootcheck faced 13 batters and nine of them reached base. Lotte did have a late 10-7 lead, but that bullpen came back to bite them again. This time Lim Kyeong-wan, Lee Jae-gon and Kim Sa-yul combined to give up five runs during the eighth and ninth innings to hand this game to the Eagles.
The Lotte Road Warriors traveled to Seoul’s Jamsil Stadium for a Saturday/Sunday two-game set with the Doosan Bears. Lotte again needed a series win to keep pace with SK, but had to settle for another series split.
This time the Giants dropped the first game in a 10-2 laugher. Starter Song Seung-joon was bad. Reliever Lee Myeong-woo wasn’t much better and poor Kim Su-wan was basically left out there to get knocked around in order to save the rest of the Lotte bullpen from becoming any more gassed than they were. The phrase, “take one for the team” comes to mind.
Lotte’s Jang Won-joon put the team on his back again as he tossed six solid innings in the second game of the series and helped Lotte to a 6-3 win. Jang appeared to run out of gas as he started the seven, but the Lotte bullpen managed to not blow the game. Kim Sa-yul recorded the final four outs in a row to earn his 17th save.
Right fielder Son Ah-seop lead the offense by going 3-5 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs scored.
This story is one that Lotte fans have heard all season. The bullpen is a problem and will be a huge liability in a short series. Kim Sa-yul has become reasonably reliable in the ninth inning, but Lotte still lacks a bridge from the starter to Kim. This is the kind of issue that drives managers to early retirement, makes fans tear their hair out and send teams home in the playoffs.
Lotte has a bunch of off days in the next few weeks. It might be time to put Goh Won-joon in the bullpen and go with a four man rotation of Jang, Song, Bootcheck and Sadowski. Lotte will not be able to advance in the playoffs for the fourth straight year if they don’t make change while there is still time.
Lotte starts the week on Tuesday with the biggest series of the year. That’s not hyperbole or unnecessary hype. The next three games at Sajik against the second place SK Wyverns will play a huge role in determining the seeding for the playoffs. Lotte gets Friday off after the big three-game set and heads to Daejeon for two games with the Hanwha Eagles. The season could come down to this week because the Giants have only four games remaining on the schedule after this week. The playoffs are more a less a certainty. All that remains is figuring out if Lotte will have to grind through a first round series or get a week off to relax and wait for the third and fourth place teams to beat each other up a little.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the KBO each week.
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