The Lotte Giants, who have been plagued by a slump in their batting lineup, have shown cooler hitting for the first time in a long time. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary phenomenon or if the changes are working.
Lotte won their 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League home game against the NC Dinos 11-1 at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on May 25. With the win, Lotte closed out the three-game series against NC with a 2-1 record and a sweep.
The LOTTE bats capitalized on early opportunities. In the bottom of the first inning, Kim Min-seok singled and Ahn Kwon-soo walked to put runners on second and third with no outs, and Jeon Jun-woo hit an infield single to center field to open the scoring. Ahn Chi-hong followed with a sacrifice fly to score the first two runs. LOTTE added another run in the second inning with a double steal, chasing off opposing starter Lee Yong-jun.
In the bottom of the third inning, Lotte put the game out of reach with a big inning. After loading the bases with no outs against reliever Lee Jun-ho, LOTTE got back-to-back RBI singles from Ko Seung-min and Lee Jung-geun. Park Seung-wook followed with a double and Kim Min-seok’s sacrifice fly to score five runs in the third inning.
Lotte then scored a run in the fifth on a replay error by NC, and added two more in the eighth on a wild pitch and a Kook Hae-sung RBI single to end the game with double-digit runs.
Lotte had scored 10 or more runs three times this season before this game. After losing 10-12 against Doosan in Jamsil on April 1, Lotte won 10-6 against Changwon NC on April 22. It was their first win by more than 10 runs this year.
This season can be seen as a “two-hitter” season, similar to 2006 (0.255), when the league average was 0.256, and there were only five batters in the entire league with at least three hits in regulation. Even so, Lotte’s batting pace hasn’t kept pace with the team’s performance. They are third in the standings, two games behind the first-place LG Twins, but sixth in team RBI (164) and OPS (0.682), and last in team home runs (16).
Lotte hasn’t been able to rely on the likes of Jeon Jun-woo, Ahn Chi-hong, Han Dong-hee, and Yoo Kang-nam. Ahn Kwon-soo, who burst onto the scene early in the season, has also slowed down in the wake of an elbow injury. As a result, Lotte is without a single triple-digit hitter.
Last year, Lotte was a middle-of-the-pack offense, ranking fourth in batting average (0.267), fifth in home runs (106), and fifth in OPS (0.711). This year, the decline in hitting, especially long balls, is being felt even more.
“(The decline in long balls) is half joke, half truth, and I don’t think we can ignore the absence of Lee Dae-ho,” Lotte manager Larry Sutton said before the game on Friday. Lee led the team in batting last year, his final season, hitting .331 with 23 home runs, 101 RBIs and an OPS of .881. The loss of one of the big guns could be more devastating than you might think.
“Han Dong-hee, Jeon Jun-woo, and Ahn Chi-hong are not hitting as well as they did last year,” Sutton said. “That’s what their offensive numbers show, but they’re still showing signs of improvement,” he said. True to his word, Lotte immediately showed hope by scoring double-digit runs.안전놀이터
There are also concerns. Of the 11 runs scored in the 25-game series, none of them came on hits, except for Jeon Jun-woo’s infield single in the first inning and Lee Jung-geun’s two-run double in the third. While it was impressive to see the team score runs on sacrifice flies, infield grounders, and daring baserunning plays, it’s disappointing that the team doesn’t have anyone who can step up to the plate.
This is where the existing players need to step up. If the slumping players come back to life, and even foreign hitter Jack Rex, who is currently out with a knee tendon injury, returns, the offense could be back on track.