Heroes on upswing as Tigers in slump
By Jung Min-ho
Nearly two months into the season, the Nexen Heroes, with six consecutive wins, are challenging reigning champions the SK Wyverns at the top of the league, while the Kia Tigers are headed the other way.
“There are three important factors that determine the results of games: pitching, defense and batting. In recent games, the Heroes have shown a great combination of pitching and batting, which has obviously led the team to positive results,” said OBS sports commentator Gu Kyung-baik. “It reminds me of teams like the Haitai Tigers and the Hyundai Unicorns when they were in their heyday.”
The Heroes are climbing the table with a balanced record in both offense and defense. As of Monday, the team had 180 runs and 36 home runs, ranking first and second in the KBO, respectively, and a 3.84 ERA, the third-best number. They are now second, having finished the last campaign bottom among the eight teams.
Kang Jung-ho is leading the club’s winning streak. Ranked first in 13 home runs and 32 RBIs, his bat has been hot. In the bullpen, Brandon Knight and Andy Van Hekken from the United States pitching well with ERAs of .272 and .228, respectively, are supporting the strong batting.
“Kang has shown great performances this season and does not feel the pressure of being a clean-up hitter unlike last one,” Gu said. “With batting support from Park Byung-ho and Lee Taek-keun, he has been heating up at bat. Young players like Kim Yeong-min have also been making good contributions to the team.”
On the other hand, the Tigers are not doing so well. Ranked seventh, they have one win in their past eight matches, the lone success coming against the Samsung Lions on May 16. They fell 6-4 to the Lotte Giants on Sunday in their latest outing.
The Tigers are currently ranked bottom in batting average at .252. The team’s ERA is just one from last in the league at 4.67. Aside from the players’ underperformance this season, a wave of injuries has swept the team. Pitchers Yang Hyeong-jong, Horacio Ramirez and Han Ki-joo and third baseman Lee Bum-ho are among those currently sidelined, leaving manager Sun Dong-yeol struggling with his line-up.
“Injuries are obviously the biggest issue of the team. Players from overseas have been underperforming as well,” Gu said.
“Although the Heroes’ momentum is strong, the dynamics could change anytime. Anything could happen.”