SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- Don't look now. Here come the Bears.
After months of mediocre play, the Doosan Bears are on the prowl for their third straight Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) title, as they continue to roar up the standings in the second half of the season.
On Tuesday, they extended their winning streak to a season-high eight games with an 8-1 victory over the Hanwha Eagles at Jamsil Stadium in the nation's capital. The win pushed their second-half record to 16-2-1 (wins-losses-ties).
The Bears, which entered last month's All-Star break in fifth place, have jumped to third place, only half a game behind the NC Dinos, which for a while appeared to be a lock as the second seed. The Kia Tigers once seemed out of reach for the Bears in first place, but the Bears are now six games back with 43 games left, one game in hand on the Tigers.
Given the way the Bears are playing, that certainly isn't insurmountable.
Nothing can seemingly go wrong for the Bears, which are leading the KBO with a .322 batting average and a 3.59 ERA since the All-Star break.
The starting rotation that enjoyed a historic season last year sputtered at the start of 2017, but the fearsome foursome of Dustin Nippert, Michael Bowden, Chang Won-jun and Yoo Hee-kwan are finding their grooves again -- which is bad news for the rest of the league.
Nippert, the reigning regular season MVP, held the Eagles to a run in seven innings Tuesday, improving to 12-6 for the season. After dropping three straight starts in June, the right-hander has now won five consecutive decisions.
Bowden, an 18-game winner last year who was hurt for most of the first half, has thrown two straight quality starts -- holding opponents to three or fewer earned runs in at least six innings.
Chang is as steady as they come. He's 9-6 with a 3.13 ERA and recently became just the second pitcher in the league history to toss at least 100 innings in 11 seasons in a row. Chang is also one win away from becoming just the third KBO pitcher to reach double figures in victories in eight consecutive seasons.
Yoo is 8-2 with a 4.57 ERA. He leads the club with 136 innings pitched, and the left-hander is headed for his fifth straight season with at least 10 wins.
On offense, cleanup Kim Jae-hwan set a KBO record by picking up an RBI in his 12th consecutive game Tuesday.
The 28-year-old slugger, who broke through last year with career highs of 37 homers and 124 RBIs, has 29 home runs and 85 RBIs so far this year. He's gone deep eight times and knocked in 24 runs in 19 games in the second half.
The Bears' hot streak has sent a jolt up and down the KBO standings. The Tigers may still be the best team, but they'll have to start looking in the rearview mirror more often.
Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyung noted how pieces have fallen into place since the midseason break.
"When pitchers can't maintain a huge lead, hitters can feel deflated, and when hitters can't provide run support, pitchers will feel the same," he said. "And with our club lately, our hitters are scoring runs when they're supposed to, and our pitchers have been able to keep the team in front."
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