BUSAN, South Korea – "The key for us is injuries," said Lotte manager, Jerry Royster, sitting behind his desk at Sajik Stadium. "We need to be healthy for the playoffs." Royster sounded confident when he talked to Busan Haps about his Giants. He sounded like a man who knew that it wasn't about how you start a season, but how you finish it.
The Giants are sitting in 5th place. They're only two games in back of a surging KIA team. It's becoming fairly clear that when it's all said and done, the Giants are going to be one of the four teams still playing baseball in early October. Whether they make it there healthy remains to be seen.
Lotte started this week on the road in Daegu. The Giants took two out of three from the 3rd place Samsung Lions, only losing on Children's Day. There would have been a lot of sad kids in Daegu if the Lions hadn't managed a 13-2 pantsing on Children's Day.
The Giants did receive solid efforts on the mound from starters Jang Won-joon and Song Seung-joon in the two victories against the Lions. Jang allowed only five hits and three walks while striking out nine. Song threw seven innings of 2-run baseball. Song gave up four hits and one walk while striking out five. In between Jang and Song was an absolute stink bomb from Lee Myung-woo on Children's Day. Lee didn't make it out of the first inning and was shelled for six runs in a Children's Day Massacre. Lee is 1-3 in his last five starts with a 7.76 ERA. Lee needs to step up if he wants to stay in the rotation past May.
At the plate for the Giants, Karim Garcia clubbed two more homers to increase his league leading home run total to nine. It wasn't all home runs and high fives for Karim last week. Garcia suffered a toe injury on Wednesday that was bad enough to require surgery. Garcia only missed one game, but he's struggled at the plate since. Garcia went 1-9 with five strikeouts after suffering the injury. 2nd baseman Cho Seong-hwan missed the entire Samsung series with a shoulder injury.
Over the weekend, the Giants returned to Fortress Sajik to face the Doosan Bears. Lotte took two out of three from the Bears and won their second straight series. The two teams combined to hit eight home runs in Friday night's contest. Lucky for the Giants that they had players on base when they hit theirs–the Bears, not so much. The star wasn't Lee Dae-ho, Hong Seong-heun or even Kim Joo-chan –the typical all stars. This time it was backup outfielder Jeon Joon-woo who launched a pair of homers and drove in five runs. Hong didn't exactly have a bad game, but he only drove in three runs while going 2-5 with a homer.
Royster has redefined the word "manager" in Korea with a more friendly rapport
–even when players don't perform well
It was more of the same for the Bears on Saturday. The only difference was that Lotte got a solid effort out of embattled American hurler Ryan Sadowski. Sadowski threw seven innings of one-run baseball allowing four hits while striking out three. I think it's more than safe to say that Sadowski has turned the corner on his early struggles.
After losing 11-1 on Saturday, Doosan avoided the sweep by beating the tar out of the Giants to the tune of, you guessed it, 11-1. Starter Jang Won-joon stuck around for six innings and struck out eight. That's the good news. The bad news is he surrendered eight runs (only seven earned) on twelve hits and two walks. No one in a Lotte uniform had a good day on a get-away day Sunday. The Giants had few answers for Doosan setup guy turned starter Lim Tae-hoon and even fewer answers against Doosan's bullpen.
The Giants welcome the first place SK Wyverns to Sajik on Tuesday through Thursday. The Wyverns have followed a 16-game winning streak with a three game losing streak and have dropped four of their past five games. The Giants will need their big bats to show up if they want to have a chance to beat Kim Kwang-hyeon and the rest of the Wyverns. After the series against the Wyverns, the Giants head to Seoul to battle the LG Twins in Jamsil. If the Giants are really serious about getting the season back on track, a series win in Seoul would be a great way to do it.
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the KBO throughout the week.