Giants: Looking Up?
The Lotte Giants did something they haven’t done in a long time. They managed to win more than they lost, and are starting to dig themselves out of a massive hole that they’ve dug for themselves.
BUSAN, South Korea -- The Giants currently sit 10 games out of first and 3 ½ in back of the fourth place LG Twins. The veteran-laden LG lineup has been struggling of late, and their hot April is looking more and more like a fluke as they continue to show their age. The playoffs would look a lot more likely if the Giants could cut the deficit down to one or two games before next week’s all-star break.
Lotte went 4-1 this week thanks in no small part to their offense finally putting together a solid stretch. We also got to see Brian Corey’s replacement, Chris Bootcheck (or 부첵), for the first time and he looks like he’s going to be a welcome addition. We also got to watch mediocre middle relievers give up lots and lots of runs...again.
The Giants' new foreign face, Chris Bootcheck completing the set of the league allotment of two per team.
The Giants started the week by smacking around the hapless seventh-place Hanhwa Eagles. The Lotte offense banged out 20 hits (19 singles) while giving Hanhwa an 11-3 drubbing. Right fielder Jeon Joon-woo went 3-6 with two RBIs and two runs scored. DH Hong Seong-heun went 4-5 with two runs scored and one RBI. Second baseman Cho Seong-hwan went 2-2 with a three-run homer.
Starting pitcher Song Seung-joon threw the ball pretty well, but there was no way that Hanwha was going to stop the Lotte offense. Song tossed seven innings of one-run baseball. Song gave up three hits and one walk while striking out five. The only Hanwha batter that got close to him was Karim Garcia. Garcia tagged Song for a solo homer.
The second game of the series was washed out, but Lotte came back from the extra day off refreshed and took the series with a 4-3 win. Starter Ryan Sadowski shut the Eagles down for 6 ⅔ innings, but the Lotte bullpen tried really hard to give the game away.
Relievers Kang Yeong-sik and Lim Kyeong-wan turned the eighth inning into an adventure by walking a couple guys to get in trouble and Hanwha managed enough hits to make them pay for the walks. Kim Sa-yul broke from the script that we’ve seen throughout the 2011 season and actually provided some relief. Kim recoded five consecutive outs while earning his fourth save of the season.
The bullpen had a few more issues when the Giants opened up a series at home against the LG Twins, but the Lotte offense pounded out ten runs while Chris Bootcheck looked like the jetlag and adjustment to living in a different country didn’t bother him at all. Bootcheck tossed 5 1/3 innings of one-run baseball. He gave up five hits and two walks while striking out two.
This game was actually tied 1-1...until Lotte started scoring runs in bunches in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings and won by a score of 10-6.
Infielder Moon Gyu-hyeon lead the Giants' offense by going 2-2 with two doubles, two walks, four RBIs and three runs scored. Third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun went 1-2 with a walk, a double, a HBP and three runs scored.
The bullpen turned a 10-1 laugher into a final that made the game look competitive in the newspapers. Reliever Jin Myeong-ho came in to throw the ninth inning of a blow out, and promptly gave up five runs on four hits and a walk. Jin has officially earned Bobby Hill status. Please, Lotte, if the outcome of the game can be impacted in anyway, do not put Jin in the game.
It was Lotte’s turn for some late inning drama in the next game as the Giants won again, 5-4.
Lotte carried a 4-2 lead into the top of the eighth inning. LG tied the game when pinch hitter Son In-ho blasted a two-run homer to right center off of reliever Lim Kyeong-wan. Lotte almost gave the game again in the top of the ninth inning when LG loaded the bases with two outs. Lotte called on reliever Kim Sa-yul to bail them out again and Kim delivered by getting a weak grounder hit right back to him to end the inning.
Lotte started a rally in the bottom of the ninth.
LG reliever Lim Chan-gyu managed to walk lead off hitter Kim Ju-chan, get a force out at first base and then walk the next two batters to load the bases. Utility guy Lee In-guh came in as a pinch hitter for the DH in the seventh inning, and came up with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Lee blooped the first pitch he saw into right field for a game winning, walk-off single.
Lost in this one was a solid start from Lotte ace Jang Won-joon. Jang tossed seven innings of three-run ball. Jang gave up ten hits and one walk while striking out three. He’s easily been the best pitcher for the Giants in the first half and has come up big when the Giants have needed him.
Lotte would have finished the week undefeated, but they ran into the buzzsaw that is LG starter Radhmes Liz. Liz handcuffed the Lotte offense for seven innings. Liz only gave up three hits and one hit batsman while striking out six. Lotte never threatened to score and lost a very quiet game, 4-0.
Lotte’s season is at a crossroads heading into the all-star break. Chris Bootcheck looks like he’ll give the Giants solid innings and the Giants now own a rotation that goes five deep with Bootcheck, Sadowski, Song, Jang and Goh Won-joon. The problem is that the early innings aren’t where Lotte needed help. The starting rotation has been fine this year. The bullpen has absolutely killed the Giants this year and unless one of the current guys step up, this could very well wind up as a lost season for a talented team.
Reliever Kim Sa-yul stepped up this week while others still struggled, but he’s never shown that he can hold onto to the closer’s job for more than a few weeks. Lim Kyeong-wan has been a non-factor this year after earning seven saves last year and Kang Yeong-sik has usually done more harm than good when he’s gotten the call.
Lotte heads to Seoul to battle the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Stadium before getting four days off for the All-star break. Lotte had four starters voted in this year. Lotte will be represented in the starting lineup by first baseman Lee Dae-ho, catcher Kang Min-ho, DH Hong Seong-heun and center fielder Jeon Joon-woo.
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.
Ryan Sadowski's final video. Apparently someone didn't like what he was doing.
Photo courtesy of MyDaily.
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