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Red-hot Giants soar to top of KBO standings

By Yonhap

Published : May 2, 2023 - 09:41

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Lotte Giants starter Na Gyun-an pitches against the Hanwha Eagles during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan, 325 kilometers southeast of Seoul last Thursday. (Lotte Giants) Lotte Giants starter Na Gyun-an pitches against the Hanwha Eagles during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan, 325 kilometers southeast of Seoul last Thursday. (Lotte Giants)

Don't look now, but here come the Lotte Giants, for the second straight spring.

After getting virtually no love from pundits in preseason prognostications, the Giants are sitting pretty atop the Korea Baseball Organization standings with a 14-8 record after the first month of the season.

This is familiar territory for the Busan-based club this time of year. At the end of April 2022, the Giants were in second place at 14-9-1 (wins-losses-ties). But they finished the season in eighth place at 64-76-4, missing the postseason for the fifth consecutive season.

Can they be any different this time around?

The Giants have jumped to the top by winning eight consecutive games, their first eight-game winning streak in 13 years. This is also the first time in 11 years that they're alone in first place after playing at least 10 games.

The unlikely hero has been starter Na Gyun-an, a former catcher. In his third season on the mound, Na has gone 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA, striking out 29 and walking eight in 33 2/3 innings. He ranks second in the league with 0.89 walks and hits per inning pitched.

Considering that the Giants' team ERA is 4.75, second to last among 10 teams, Na has been doing the heavy lifting in the rotation.

The team's two American starters, Dan Straily and Charlie Barnes, have struggled mightily so far in 2023. Straily, a former strikeout leader in the KBO, is 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in 21 2/3 innings. Barnes has pitched to a 7.58 ERA in four starts. He has walked 13 batters in only 19 innings while serving up 28 hits.

Both pitchers have had success here before, and the Giants will be hoping that both will find their groove and Na will sustain his current level of pitching.

Offensively, the Giants have scored the second-most runs in the KBO with 112, despite having played the fewest games so far with 22. They also have the second-highest team batting average with runners in scoring position at .304.

Manager Larry Sutton, in the final year of his contract, has been pushing the right buttons so far.

Unheralded outfielder An Gweon-su, getting his first extended opportunity to start in the KBO, has been a revelation in the leadoff spot. He leads the Giants with a .318 batting average, 27 hits and four steals. Veteran reliever Kim Sang-su, cut by the SSG Landers last year, is enjoying a renaissance at age 35. He sports a tidy 0.87 ERA in a team-leading 14 outings covering 10 1/3 innings.

The Giants' hot streak will face a serious test starting Tuesday, in a three-game road series against the Kia Tigers, winners of five straight games. (Yonhap)