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Once in last place, KT Wiz claw back into KBO postseason contention

By Yonhap

Published : July 31, 2023 - 10:59

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KT Wiz starter Wes Benjamin pitches against the LG Twins during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on July 25. (KT Wiz) KT Wiz starter Wes Benjamin pitches against the LG Twins during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on July 25. (KT Wiz)

On May 18, the KT Wiz was in last place in South Korean baseball, with a record of 10-24-2 (wins-losses-ties). They were stuck at a season-worst 14-games under .500 with little hope for a quick bounceback as injuries were piling up.

Since May 19, however, the Wiz have reeled off the best record in the Korea Baseball Organization at 34-19. They tied for the league lead with 15 wins in June and led everyone with 13 wins in July.

A nine-game losing streak from the end of April is now a distant memory, as the Wiz find themselves in the thick of the postseason race at 44-43-2. Thanks to a three-game winning streak, the Wiz are holding down the fifth and final postseason spot, 1.5 games over the Kia Tigers and just one game behind the Doosan Bears for third place.

This has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost several key players to assorted injuries at the start of the season.

Two of their most reliable relievers, Ju Kwon and Kim Min-su, both missed huge chunks of time with forearm and shoulder injuries, respectively. In May, So Hyeong-jun, a mainstay in their starting rotation, was ruled out for the season with an elbow injury.

Among position players, outfielder Bae Jung-dae missed the first two months of the season with a broken hand. Park Byung-ho, the reigning KBO home run king, dealt with a hamstring injury. Third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun also missed time with a broken toe, while young slugger Kang Baek-ho has been in and out of the lineup with what the team has called mental fatigue.

Even through a great deal of losing, though, manager Lee Kang-chul preached patience, saying at every opportunity he had that the Wiz would have a better record as soon as injured players returned.

"Once everyone is back, we will have as strong of a squad as any team," Lee once said. "If we can ride out this storm and take it one step at a time patiently, we have more than what it takes to contend."

Lee has been proven prophetic, as the team's rise coincided with the return of those injured men.

Solid performances from unlikely sources have also contributed to the Wiz's midseason surge. Infielder Lee Ho-yeon, acquired in a trade on May 19, has batted .305 in the 38 games since joining the Wiz. He has never batted over .250 in his career so far.

Outfielder Kim Min-hyeok is batting .312, including a KBO-best .387 mark in 18 games in July.

The Wiz's patience with starter Wes Benjamin has paid off too. The left-hander had a mediocre 4.50 ERA through June while struggling with his command at times.

In July, though, Benjamin won all four of his starts while pitching to a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings. He struck out 31 and walked just three batters. He ranked third in the KBO in ERA for July, right behind his teammate, Ko Young-pyo, who posted a 1.30 ERA in four starts.

The Wiz will open August with a chance to make up even more ground on contenders, as they play three games against the second-place SSG Landers and three more against the Bears. (Yonhap)