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(LEAD) Samsung Lions send message, top baseball preseason standings

All Headlines 10:53 March 28, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with roster decision in para 17)

SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- The Samsung Lions, which fell short of winning their fifth straight South Korean baseball championship last year, topped the preseason standings last weekend, reminding their competition that they could make another title run in 2016.

The Lions routed the SK Wyverns 11-1 Sunday to finish first in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) preseason with 11 wins and five losses.

The preseason champions have gone on to win the Korean Series the same year on six previous occasions, most recently the 2007 Wyverns.

The last time the Lions finished first in the preseason was in 2002, when they also went on to win the Korean Series.

The regular season will start Friday with all 10 clubs in action. The Lions will host the Doosan Bears in the rematch of last year's Korean Series at the brand new Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The KT Wiz, an expansion franchise entering their second KBO season, had the second-best record in the preseason with 10 wins, five losses and one tie. They defeated the Lotte Giants 5-3 to end the preseason with a five-game winning streak.

The defending champion Bears ranked third at eight wins, five losses and three ties.

The NC Dinos, a trendy preseason pick to win the Korean Series in 2016, finished tied for fifth in the preseason with eight wins, eight losses and one tie. They defeated the Nexen Heroes 8-3 Sunday to even their record.

The Lions, on paper, had the most balanced squad in the spring. They led the KBO with a .298 team batting average, 100 runs scored and a 3.74 ERA.

They managed the best preseason record despite lingering question marks over their pitching staff.

Starter Yun Sung-hwan and setup man An Ji-man have been under illegal overseas gambling suspicions since last fall. The Lions left them off their Korean Series roster last year, and with the police investigation having dragged on for months, they still didn't get to use them in the preseason. It's not clear exactly when they will be available.

The Wiz, which put together a strong second-half run after a dismal start to their inaugural season, belted a league-high 23 preseason home runs in 16 games.

Kim Sa-yeon led all players with six long balls, and teammate Kim Sang-hyun tied for second with five.

The Bears lost All-Star outfielder Kim Hyun-soo to the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason, but they didn't miss a beat in the spring, at least at the plate. They were among the top three in batting average, home runs, runs, hits and slugging percentage.

The Hanwha Eagles went 9-7, providing a glimpse into what could be a promising season. Wilin Rosario, former Colorado Rockies catcher who signed for US$1.3 million this offseason, hit four home runs in 12 games and had a .395/.490/.767 line.

The Eagles, who haven't made the postseason since 2007, are hoping their No. 1 starter, Esmil Rogers, will bounce back from offseason elbow issues. He didn't make a preseason appearance.

The Eagles also said later on Monday that they will leave Rogers off their Opening Day roster and will have to monitor his rehab before making a decision about when he'll return to the mound. He has recently resumed throwing and has reported no pain. Rogers is expected to make his season debut in late April.

The Dinos didn't quite live up to their billings as the title contender. Reigning MVP Eric Thames batted only .158 (6-for-38) in 15 games with no home runs. Last year, he posted the KBO's first 40-40 season with 47 home runs and 40 steals.

On the mound, their top two starters, Eric Hacker and Zach Stewart, were both hit hard in the spring. Hacker, who led the staff with a 3.13 ERA last year, gave up 12 earned runs on 18 hits in 16 2/3 innings for a 6.48 ERA. Stewart, a midseason acquisition last year who went 8-2, was tagged for 20 hits and 12 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings for a 6.89 ERA.

The Nexen Heroes, decimated over the winter with departures of key players, went 5-10-1 in wins, losses and ties to finish ninth.

No club lost as many key pieces as the Heroes in the offseason. Four-time home run king Park Byung-ho signed with the Minnesota Twins, while No. 1 starter Andy Van Hekken is now with the Seibu Lions in Japan. Their top three relievers from last season are all gone: closer Son Seung-lak has signed with the Lotte Giants, while Han Hyun-hee and Cho Sang-woo have been ruled out for the season with elbow injuries.

The Giants have been regarded as a potential playoff contender, having retained three foreign players -- pitchers Josh Lindblom and Brooks Raley, and outfielder Jim Adduci -- but posted the worst preseason record at 3-11-3.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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