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Defending champions at top of baseball standing entering All-Star break

All News 09:06 July 15, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 15 (Yonhap) -- After winning their first South Korean baseball title in 14 years last year, the Doosan Bears have picked up right where they left off.

The Bears have wrapped up the first half in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season in first place with 55 wins, 27 losses and one tie. They dropped their final two games before the All-Star break but they still have a 4.5-game lead over the NC Dinos.

The Bears are the only KBO team with at least 50 wins. In three of the past four seasons, the team that reached the 50-win plateau first went on to win the championship Korean Series.

They have been the undisputed best team in the league, from top to bottom, all season. They even got a no-hitter from starter Michael Bowden last month. Their stars are at or near the top in all major offensive and pitching categories.

And they've done it without All-Star left fielder Kim Hyun-soo, who signed with the Baltimore Orioles in December.

It was the Dinos that handed these Bears the two straight defeats, and they're at 47-28-2. They enjoyed winning streaks of eight games and 15 games earlier in the season, but in a testament to the Bears' consistent excellence, the Dinos never got closer than 3.5 games of first place during their 15-game run.

The Nexen Heroes, given up for dead by most pundits after losing key pieces over the winter, are in third at 48-36-1. They closed out the first half on a five-game winning streak.

Four-time home run king Park Byung-ho left for the Minnesota Twins, while No. 1 starter Andy Van Hekken left for Japan. Slugging outfielder Yoo Han-joon and closer Son Seung-lak both signed with different clubs in the KBO. Two setup men, Han Hyun-hee and Cho Sang-woo, are out for season with injuries.

Still, their no-name pitching staff has allowed the fewest walks in the league so far with 256 in 85 games. The offense, without Park and Pittsburgh Pirates' infielder Kang Jung-ho, who left after the 2014 season, hasn't missed a beat, having scored 488 runs to rank second.

The SK Wyverns are the only other team over .500 at 43-42, but remain 5.5 games behind the Heroes.

The rest of the league has been locked in a topsy-turvy battle for the final playoff spot, with an unfamiliar tenant near the bottom of the standings.

The Samsung Lions, who have won the past five pennants and four of the last five Korean Series, are in ninth place at 34-48-1, only half a game up on the second-year franchise, KT Wiz. The Lions fell all the way to 10th after a loss last Sunday, the first time they'd been in last place in more than nine years.

For a perspective on how far the Lions have fallen: they led the league at All-Star break in each of the past four seasons. They were 49-34 in the first half in 2015, and 49-27 a year before that.

The Lions have had to deal with a lot of pitching woes, but this has been another offense-happy season.

For the second straight year, no club has an ERA below 4.00 at the break. Given their positions in the standings, it's perhaps no coincidence the Bears have the lowest ERA at 4.29 and the Lions have the highest with 5.78.

On offense, nine of 10 clubs are hitting better than .280. Only the Boston Red Sox, with a .292 average, were batting above .280 as a team at the All-Star break in the majors.

The Bears are also leading in that category, and they've also scored a league-best 520 runs.

Teams have played between 77 and 85 games in the 144-game season.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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