BUSAN, South Korea – When our hero (yes, that's me) last saw the Lotte Giants, they were stuck in neutral and trying to decide if they wanted to pack it in for the summer or actually try to overachieve a little. The Giants have enjoyed a torrid month of August playing some of their best ball in years. They’ve jumped all the way from the lower half of the league standings to second place and only five games in back of their arch rivals, the Samsung Lions.
Oft-maligned infielder Hwang Jae-gyun has been the tallest of the Giants for the past month. Hwang clubbed four homers, stole five bases and drove in 21 runs in August while the Giants stretched back into contention.
DH Hong Seong-heun’s power numbers haven’t bounced back the way most were predicting, but he’s still been a valuable contributor with a .376 batting average and 10 walks in August. Hong drove in 12 and scored 17 times.
On the mound, Kim Sa-yul has solidified the back end of the Lotte bullpen by taking over the closer role. Kim has seven saves since the end of July and hasn’t give up a run in almost six weeks.
Starting pitching has been one of the keys to the Giants’ resurgence. Lotte boasts a rotation that goes five deep and those five have taken a lot of the pressure off of the embattled Lotte bullpen by going deep into games. Lotte can’t win on a regular basis if starters are only going five innings. The starting staff needs to keep the relievers in the bullpen for six, seven, even eight innings every night.
Chris Bootcheck has been as advertised in the Lotte rotation. Bootcheck has gone 4-2 in eight starts with 32 K’s and 13 walks in 44 ? innings of work.
Starter Goh Won-joon maintained a 4-0 record in August, but he got a lot of help from the Lotte offense. Goh was battered for 15 earned runs in 33 ? innings of work.
Song Seung-joon was the most reliable starter in August by going 3-1 in five starts with a 2.90 ERA. Song’s hot streak has spilled over into September as he threw 6 ? innings of one-run baseball against the LG Twins on Saturday. He fanned nine and didn’t walk a soul.
The Giants started the weird part of their schedule this week. They’ve started making up all the rainouts that fans and players were forced to endure during the summer months. This year was especially bad and the season will go well into the first week of October.
The Giants started the week by traveling to Daegu for a two-game set with the first place Lions. Lotte was blasted 13-3 in the first game, but bounced back in the second game of the series to stick it to the Lions with an 8-2 victory.
Goh Won-joon was able to keep the damage to a minimum during his 6 ? innings of work. Goh allowed only two runs on seven hits, one walk and one hit batsman while fanning three.
Rookie manager, Yang Seung-Ho, has stepped out of the shadow of former skipper Jerry Royster
Lotte followed the important W against Samsung with another W against KIA. Starter Ryan Sadowski lead the way for Lotte as the Giants eeked out a 2-1 victory. Sadowksi tossed 6 ? innings of one-run baseball. Ryan gave up three hits, three walks and a hit batsman while striking out four.
Lotte pushed across a couple runs in the first inning and hung on for dear life. DH Hong Seong-heun hit a single with runners on second and third to give Lotte a 2-0 lead. That was all the offense Lotte would need or get.
Lotte followed the wins over Samsung and KIA with…a 6-2 win over LG. Hey! Three wins. That’s a winning streak! It was Chris Bootcheck’s turn to toss a quality start. Bootcheck threw seven innings of two-run ball. Bootcheck gave up nine hits and a walk while striking out seven.
Left fielder Kim Ju-chan lead the offense yet again by going 3-4 with a walk. two run scored, two RBIs and a stolen base. Kim has been the table setter that this offense was lacking in the early months of the season.
Lotte ran the winning streak to four games with 7-1 win over LG on Saturday. Song Seung-joon rumbled to the bump and dominated for 6 ? innings.
First baseman Lee Dae-ho went 2-3 with a walk and three RBIs. Backup outfielder Lee Seung-hwa hit a two-run triple in the top of the ninth to dot the exclamation point that was the 7-1 victory.
Sadly, the winning streak ended at four games as Lotte fell to LG, 3-1. The victory for LG came thanks in large part to a dominating effort from LG starter Park Hyeon-joon.
Lotte started Jang Won-joon stuck around for 6 ? innings, but gave up three runs on 10 hits and two walks.
Lotte gets three days off this week thanks to the makeup schedule. The Giants won’t play again until they play SK in Incheon on Thursday and Friday. Lotte comes back home on Saturday for two games against the Nexen Heroes. I’m sure the rest will be welcome to a starting rotation whose arms have to be dragging at this point in the season.
We’re exactly one month away from learning whether or not the Giants will make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. KIA is only a game behind Lotte for second place and SK is only two games behind KIA for third. It’s going to be a sprint to the finish in the final weeks of the regular season.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.