SEOUL– Having missed the postseason in a franchise-worst five straight seasons, the Samsung Lions are playing like it’s back in 2015, the last year in which they contended for the South Korean baseball title.
The Lions shut out the Kia Tigers 7-0 on Tuesday to improve to 30-23 for the season. The LG Twins also won their 30th game Tuesday, as the two clubs became the first to reach the 30-win plateau in the 2021 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season.
For the Lions, it’s their fastest pace to 30 wins since 2015, when they reached that mark in their 50th game. They finished the regular season in first place, though they lost to the Doosan Bears in the Korean Series.
In the past five seasons, the team that got to 30 wins first ended up with the Korean Series championship four times.
The Lions were also the first team to 20 wins this year. They’ve been playing .500 ball since starting out at 20-13, though that’s still a respectable mark given their injury issues and a glaring hole in the starting rotation.
The Lions have the third-best team ERA at 4.21, led by a trio of effective starters in Won Tae-in (7-3, 2.66 ERA), David Buchanan (6-2, 2.63 ERA) and Baek Jung-hyun (5-4, 3.17 ERA).
Missing from the equation is Ben Lively, waived after suffering an injury and posting a 0-1 record with a 4.05 ERA in six starts. Lively’s replacement, Mike Montgomery, signed his deal last week, though Huh said he doesn’t know when Montgomery will arrive in South Korea because of visa issues.
On offense, the Lions are third with 48 home runs. They ranked seventh a year ago with 129 homers.
Jose Pirela and Oh Jae-il, a pair of new acquisitions, have combined for 21 home runs. Oh missed the early part of the season with an injury but has been making up for that lost time, with a .297/.366/568 line, eight homers, 24 RBIs and 20 runs in 33 games. What was once a league average offense has been on the upswing of late, with Oh batting .458/.519/.708 this month.
The Lions have also mastered the dying art of base stealing. They’re first with 48 swipes, and they’re the only club to feature three players with double figures in steals: Park Hae-min (18), Koo Ja-wook (10) and Kim Ji-chan (10).
The Lions have only been caught 11 times and their success rate of 81.4 percent is the best in the league. No other team is in the 80 percent range.
With veterans declining and youngsters unable to step up, the Lions were left on the outside looking in from 2016 to 2020. There were some hopes of better times last year, though, as they sat at 30-25 in July.
They faded away badly, going 34-50 with five ties the rest of the way.
But manager Huh Sam-young, now in his second season, believes things are different this time around.
“The players have more confidence in themselves and in one another,” Huh said. “We all feel that we’re a better team than last year.”
Source: Yonhap News Agency