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(LEAD) Lions lead KBO at All-Star break for 4th consecutive season

All Headlines 10:17 July 17, 2015

(ATTN: ADDS stats in paras 10-12)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 17 (Yonhap) -- For the fourth season in a row, the Samsung Lions are entering the All-Star break in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in first place.

The Lions outdueled the Nexen Heroes in a 17-13 slugfest Thursday to close out the first half at 49-34. It marked the fourth consecutive year in which the Lions ended the first half in first place. They have won the championship in each of the past four seasons and are going for an unprecedented fifth straight title in 2015.

Before the All-Star break last year, the Lions were 49-27 with two ties, which put them 3.5 games ahead of the Heroes despite losing four straight games.

This year, the Lions have won two in a row but sit only one game up on the Doosan Bears. The NC Dinos are in third and trailing the Lions by just 1.5 games.

With one more victory after the All-Star weekend, the Lions will become the first KBO team to reach the 50-win plateau this year. More than half the clubs that won 50 games faster than anyone else have gone on to win championships, including the Lions teams in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Until last year, only the top four teams from the regular season advanced to the playoffs. A wild card spot has been added to the equation this year and the fifth-place team will take on the No. 4-ranked team in a wild-card playoff.

The Hanwha Eagles, the KBO's perennial doormat, have been hovering above .500 all season and are currently occupying that fifth spot at 44-40, one game ahead of the Lotte Giants.

Under new manager Kim Sung-keun, the Eagles, the league's worst team in each of the past three seasons, have competed with the grit of a contender and have finished the first half above .500 for the first time in seven years.

The Eagles' inexorable march toward the postseason has also been a boon at the gate. They have sold out 16 of 43 home games in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul. The nine other teams in the league have sold out a combined 31 games this year.

In what has been another strong offensive season, no team has posted an ERA below 4.00. The SK Wyverns, up and down all season, lead the way with a 4.29 ERA. The Wyverns also have the KBO's best bullpen ERA at 3.70, led by All-Star reliever Jung Woo-ram and his 1.65 ERA.

The Heroes are once again tearing up opponents' pitching, despite missing shortstop Kang Jung-ho, who left to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates after hitting a career-high 40 home runs in 2014. The Heroes, who led the KBO with 199 homers in 128 games last year, are in first again this year with 121 long balls in 86 games.

They are also the only club to have scored more than 500 runs, with 535 to date. The Heroes have more hits, walks and total bases than anyone, and boast the highest on-base and slugging percentages too.

Predictably, the expansion franchise KT Wiz have struggled mightily, but they have come on strong of late, with a 7-4 record in July. They remain the worst team in the KBO at 28-58, 10 games behind the ninth-place LG Twins.

The teams have played between 81 and 87 games so far. Each club will play 144 games this year, up from 128 a year ago, following the addition of the Wiz.


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