For the Giants, it’s wait till next yearWhat do the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball and the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball League have in common?
Until last weekend, they each had won only one game this season.
On Sunday, at Daejeon Baseball Park, the Giants snapped a 12-game losing streak by beating the Hanwha Eagles, 9-0. At 1-12, the Giants are sitting in last place in the league, a spot they share with the Doosan Bears.
How happy was Baek In-cheon, the manager, to clinch that first victory? I called him to find out. Baek did not tell me directly how relieved he was, but his trembling voice offered proof enough.
One must remember that last June Baek replaced Woo Yong-deuk as manager. At the time, the team was on a 13-game losing skid, the longest in team history.
Lotte, desperate to revive the team’s fortunes, opted in mid-season for bringing in Baek, who in 1990 had led the LG Twins to a pennant and then a championship in the Korean Series.
When he arrived, Baek was just one game shy of breaking the team record for consecutive losses, a dubious distinction that had torpedoed his predecessor.
Pressure? You bet.
Nevertheless, Baek, as skipper of the team, knows exactly where his team stands and was quick to point out that one win won’t turn around a team that has decided to groom players from its own farm system for the past couple of years.
“We lack the experience, but we are getting there,” said Baek, his voice suddenly filling with confidence.
When I asked him why the middle of the batting order seemed to be without power hitters, he admitted that was a problem.
But when a team like the Giants only wins its first game at the end of April, it’s safe to say the problem lies more in the batting than in the pitching.
Not that the Giants have a reliable starting pitcher, for they don’t. Nevertheless, what they lack in starters they make up for in the bullpen. Out of the 12 games the Giants lost, six were by three runs. In six of the losses, the offense failed to put a single run on the scoreboard. So the bullpen is doing an acceptable job of keeping games close. However, not one of the league’s top 20 batters who has played more than 10 games wears a Giants’ uniform.
In order to bring some punch to the lineup, the Giants have decided to sign Charles Smith, 34, a right-handed batter who most recently saw action in the Mexican League.
Smith spent the 1999 and 2000 seasons in Korea, with Samsung and then with LG, posting a .287 batting average, with 75 home runs and 198 RBIs.
A big, less-than-nimble first-baseman, Smith has only passable defensive skills, and the Giants will mostly be using him as a pinch hitter and a sometime DH. His presence will add some power, but it likely won’t be enough to completely reverse the team.
Baek’s feeling about the future is this: “We have a young nucleus that I think will be ready next season to make the jump to the next level. Until that happens, our fans need to be patient.”
by Brian Lee