A little over a week into the second half of the season, five clubs find themselves bunched up in the middle of the Korea Baseball Organization standings.
At the top, the Kia Tigers and the NC Dinos have put some distance between themselves and the rest. The Tigers are in first at 60-32 and are leading the Dinos by five.
The Doosan Bears, two-time defending champs, are another five back of the Dinos in third place at 48-40-1 (wins-losses-ties).
Then it gets interesting.
Players of the Lotte Giants celebrate their 3-1 victory over the Kia Tigers in the teams' Korea Baseball Organization game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on July 23, 2017. (Yonhap)
The Nexen Heroes are one behind the Bears at 49-43-1. The SK Wyverns (49-45-1) are one game back of the Heroes, and the LG Twins (45-42-1) trail the Wyverns by just half a game.
Having won three in a row, the Lotte Giants (45-45-2) are now 1.5 games back of the Twins.
To sum up, only four games separate the Bears and the Giants. The top three teams in the regular season earn automatic postseason berths -- with the pennant winner advancing directly to the Korean Series -- while the fourth- and fifth-place teams will square off in the wild card game.
The Giants have been red hot since the All-Star break. They swept the first-place Tigers last weekend, and lead the KBO with a 2.94 ERA in July.
Their surge has coincided with struggles of the Wyverns, who have won just one out of seven games since the break to drop from third to fifth in the standings.
They lost their fifth straight on Tuesday, falling to the Tigers 11-10 in a seesaw affair. The Wyverns have an unseemly 8.85 ERA in seven games in the second half.
The Bears have also taken advantage, going 6-1 since the break to jump to third place. They'll get a couple of injured All-Stars back in their lineup this week, as catcher Yang Eui-ji and outfielder Min Byung-hun are both expected to return from broken fingers.
The Heroes and the Twins, meanwhile, will trot out former major league bats this week. The Twins signed former Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman James Loney last week, and he's expected to make his KBO debut on Thursday. Last Saturday, the Heroes acquired former Texas Rangers outfielder Michael Choice, who could be ready to play on the weekend. (Yonhap)