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(News Focus) Win remains elusive for two KBO bottom feeders

All Headlines 10:00 April 10, 2013

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, April 10 (Yonhap) -- And then there were two.

About two weeks into the 2013 season, the two bottom feeders in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) remain winless.

The Hanwha Eagles, dead last in 2012, are 0-8 to start 2013. The NC Dinos, the expansion club playing in their first KBO season, are 0-6. They occupy the bottom of the nine-team league so far.

The Eagles fell to the Samsung Lions 8-2 on Tuesday. The Dinos lost to the LG Twins 9-5 on the same day.

The 2003 Lotte Giants own the league record for the longest losing streak to start a season with 12. The Eagles and the Dinos will meet for the first time in a three-game series starting next Tuesday, and there's a chance that at least one of them will still be without a win by then. The Eagles would set the new futility record if they lose every game this week, while the Dinos would be one loss shy of matching the Giants' mark if they, too, lose the rest of the week.

And here's the ultimate irony: Kim Euong-yong, the manager of the Eagles, and Kim Kyung-moon, the Dinos' manager, are ranked first and second among active KBO managers in career victories, with 1,476 wins and 512 wins, respectively.

The Eagles have been the KBO's worst team in three of the past four seasons, and their struggles this year have been anticipated to some degree.

They lost their No. 1 starter, Ryu Hyun-jin, who was posted for bidding among Major League Baseball clubs and was later signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in December. Veteran right-hander Park Chan-ho retired after one season with the Eagles. The front office, though, didn't make any major offseason moves to compensate for these losses.

The Eagles have given up 61 runs in their eight games, 21 more than the next worst team, the Kia Tigers. The Eagles had been the only KBO team without a home run until Kim Kyung-eon hit one Tuesday.

The team's pitching has been dismal. The top two starters, Denny Bautista and Dana Eveland, have been knocked around in their first two starts. Eveland, a former member of the Baltimore Orioles, has given up four doubles and a triple in just 12 1/3 innings. Bautista, with seven big league seasons under his belt, has struck out 17 in 11 1/3, but he's also hit three batters.

For the Dinos, the defense has been a bigger problem. Their three foreign pitchers, Adam Wilk, Charlie Shirek and Eric Hacker, have acquitted themselves well so far. The defense behind them, though, has often let them down.

The Dinos have committed 12 errors in six games, including four against the LG Twins on Tuesday. The players have been finding new ways to make fielding mistakes, whether it's an outfielder bobbling a ball to turn a single into a double or a double into a triple, or an infielder letting a hard grounder roll between his legs.

The team's offense hasn't helped much, generating just 14 runs in six games. But they at least showed some promise on Tuesday, scoring four runs in the top fourth against the Twins to briefly take a 4-3 lead. In the loss, the Dinos still had 10 hits.

Fans' reaction to the Eagles' woes has reached almost tragicomic proportions. In cyberspace, they have said the biggest reason the Eagles have lost eight games in a row is because they've only played eight games so far. Others have expressed concerns, some more serious than others, about the health of the 71-year-old manager Kim Euong-yong, who said last week he's so stressed over the losing streak that his blood pressure has gone up this spring.

In Daegu on Tuesday, Kim didn't face the media before the game against the Lions. KBO managers usually have informal interviews in the dugout with reporters, an hour or two before the game, but team officials said Kim will forego pre-game media sessions until the end of the current losing skid.

Instead, Kim Sung-han, the Eagles' bench coach, addressed the media on Tuesday. He said he had kept all the sports newspapers out of Kim Euong-yong's reach in the team's hotel earlier Tuesday, because the manager would have been "upset" reading headlines blaming Hanwha's wretched start for the drop in the league-wide attendance.

According to the KBO, the teams drew 328,148 fans in the season's first 28 games through last Sunday, averaging 11,720 fans per game. Over the first 28 games in 2012, 364,075 fans had come to watch baseball, an average of 13,003 fans per game. Last year, the league went on to set a new single-season record with more than 7.1 million fans attending games.

Unseasonably chilly weather may have kept a few fans away so far. Some casual fans may also have lost interest in baseball after South Korea was eliminated in the first round at the World Baseball Classic last month. However, the disconcerting discrepancy in quality of play between the two worst clubs and the rest of the league may have been the biggest blow.

Kim Kyung-moon, the Dinos' manager, kept preaching patience over the team's slow start.

"Our winning percentage is at zero, and that means the only way for us to go is up," he said Tuesday. "Our players are all carrying the weight of the world, but they're all trying to encourage each other. We're going to take a lot of hits this year, but it will make us stronger. Baseball is a difficult sport, and we're experiencing some growing pains."


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