BUSAN, South Korea — Lotte currently sits in sixth place and ten games in back of first place Samsung. The problem is that Lotte is five games in back of the LG Twins for the fourth and final playoff spot. Seventh place Hanhwa is only one game behind Lotte.
The Lotte Giants are one of the most talented baseball teams in the KBO. They have a two-time triple crown winner, Golden Glove Winners and lots of All-star appearances, but the games aren’t played on paper. They’re played on the field and that is where Lotte appears to be severely lacking.
If the starting pitcher doesn’t get knocked around, they make mental errors in the field. If they don’t make mental errors, the bullpen collapses. If the bullpen doesn’t collapse, some other calamity occurs. These problems were present under Jerry Royster, but they seem to be amplified under a freshman manager that wants to handle a professional pitching staff the way he handled a college pitching staff.
With Jerry Royster in the dugout, the players knew where they stood. In one of the few conversations I had with Jerry, he once mentioned how it was his job to know what his players couldn’t do and then not ask them to do things they weren’t capable of handling.
A manager needs to put his players in the best possible position in order to win and its clear that Lotte has gone through some growing pains with new manager Yang Seung-ho.
The players knew where they fit on the team under Royster. His rotation, bullpen and lineups were remarkably consistent when everyone was healthy. They knew if they made a mistake, they’d have an opportunity to redeem themselves at some point. They knew how to relax.
Alternatively, this baseball team appears tense and uneasy. It’s really no wonder that the mental mistakes have continued to plague Lotte. They’re putting stress on a structure that wasn’t up to code in the first place.
There is talk that die-hard Lotte fans are organizing a "recall Royster" campaign, similar to the outpouring of support (and donations) last year to keep Royster here in the first place. Don't hold your breath, he probably ain't coming back in a Giants' uniform.
The Weekly Wrap
Lotte started the week by dropping two games to KIA by identical 7-2 scores. The games played out in similar fashion. KIA pounced on an early mistake, put a few runs on the board and cruised to victory.
Lotte managed to take the rubber match in a rain-soaked, seven inning affair that saw starter Goh Won-joon pitch his guts out. Goh tossed seven shutout innings against the Tigers and looked like he could have thrown seven more. Goh allowed only three hits, one walk and a hit batsman while striking out three. He seemed to give up a lot of flyballs, but almost all of them were bogged down in the heavy summer air.
Lotte broke a scoreless tie in the second inning. With no outs and runners on first and third, second baseman Cho Seong-hwan grounded into a double play, but Kang Min-ho was ignored and allowed to score from third.
Catcher, Kang Min Ho, is having a solid year both at and behind the plate
The Giants rallied for three more in the bottom of the sixth inning. With runners on first and second with one out, right fielder Son Ah-seop hit a triple into the gap in right/center. The throw from the cut-off man to third was absolutely awful. It bounced a couple times and got away from KIA third baseman Lee Beom-ho. Son was able to score while KIA tried to corral the baseball.
Lotte started the month of July by dropping a 5-4 game to Samsung in heartbreaking fashion. The Giants held a 4-3 lead late in the game and appeared to be heading to victory…until reliever Kim Sa-yul gave up a solo homer to Lions’ rookie DH Mo Sang-ki in the eighth inning to tie the game.
The bullpen failed again in the ninth inning when reliever Jin Myeong-ho allowed the first two batters to reach. Kim Su-wan was brought in to put out the fire, but Kim managed to turn a small grease fire into an inferno of mediocre pitching. Samsung put both runners in scoring position with a sac bunt. Kim walked Samsung right fielder Park Han-yi to load the bases with one out. Kim walked Samsung third baseman Park Seok-min on six pitches for a walk-off walk.
Lotte sent Brian Corey to the mound for what was rumored to be a last chance start on Saturday. Corey took the ball with a plane ticket of shame waiting for him and threw pretty well.
Corey tossed 5 1/3 innings of two-run baseball. Corey allowed five hits and a hit batsman while striking out three. Not bad for a guy that’s been bounced between the rotation, the bullpen, the big club and the minor league team all year. The thought is that Corey is safe for a while, but this team needs a scapegoat and it’s hard to deny that players such as Corey, who wasn’t pitching that bad, tend to be easy targets for management to place blame.
With Corey helping out on the mound before hitting the turnstiles back to the States, the Lotte offense battered Samsung starter Cha Woo-chan for almost all of his six innings of work. Cha was charged with all eight Lotte runs (six earned) on nine hits and three walks.
Lotte center fielder/lead off man Jeon Joon-woo went 2-5 with a homer, three RBIs and two runs scored. Slugger Lee Dae-ho went 2-4 with a walk, a homer, one RBI and two runs scored.
The Sunday game was washed out thanks to a very active rainy season here on the peninsula. Supposedly, the rainy season is going to last into September and it’s going to be interesting to see how much of an impact the weather has on the pennant race.
Lotte will return to action against the struggling Doosan Bears in Seoul’s Jamsil stadium on Tuesday…weather permitting. Lotte will remain up north for a weekend series against the SK Wyverns in Incheon.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.
Photo by Rob Digby