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With KBO's best record in July, Samsung Lions roar into wild card contention

All Headlines 15:26 July 30, 2018

SEOUL, July 30 (Yonhap) -- Once given up for dead in what seemed to be another lost season, the Samsung Lions have roared into wild card contention in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) by posting the league's best record in July.

During the current stretch, they've pitched and hit better than at any point in 2018, and have enjoyed a bit of luck as well.

After completing a three-game sweep of the Kia Tigers on Sunday with a 13-1 victory, the Lions improved to 13-7-1 (wins-losses-ties) for July, the best among 10 teams this month. Since the All-Star break in the middle of July, the Lions have gone 9-3.

In this file photo from March 28, 2018, Yang Chang-seop of the Samsung Lions throws a pitch against the Kia Tigers in the bottom of the first inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

At 48-52-2, they're now one game ahead of the Nexen Heroes in the fifth spot, and sit 4.5 games behind the LG Twins for fourth place.

Barely two months ago, the Lions were in last place, apparently destined for another dismal season after finishing in ninth place in both 2016 and 2017.

Their manager, Kim Han-soo, said he hoped the team would be within four games of the break-even point in the win-loss column by the time the KBO begins an Asian Games break on Aug. 17. The continental competition runs from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 in Indonesia and the KBO will resume its regular season on Sept. 4.

With about two weeks to go, the Lions are right at that point.

They're batting .305 for July, second best behind the Doosan Bears (.326). On the mound, the Lions have posted a 3.52 ERA in July, also the second-lowest mark in the KBO behind the SK Wyverns' 3.28.

Rookie Yang Chang-seop leads the staff this month with three wins in five starts, along with a 4.30 ERA. First-year import Tim Adleman, after a mediocre start, has enjoyed his best month in July, with a 1.80 ERA in three starts. Another foreign pitcher, Lisalverto Bonilla, has gone 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five July starts.

The bullpen has also stepped up its game. Closer Sim Chang-min has a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings this month, somewhat inflated after giving up a three-run walk-off home run against the LG Twins last Thursday in one-third of an inning. In 11 2/3 other innings in July, he's held opponents to one earned run while striking out 15 and walking three.

Kwon Oh-joon, the elder statesman in the pen at 38, has not been scored on in seven appearances this month. Dating back to June, Kwon is working on a nine-game scoreless streak.

In this file photo from May 23, 2018, players for the Samsung Lions celebrate their 6-4 victory over the Lotte Giants in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

At the plate, infielder Lee Won-seok is tied for fourth in the league with 20 RBIs in July, while backup catcher Lee Ji-young has batted .447 in 15 games this month.

One stroke of luck for the Lions came in Friday's game, when they beat the Tigers 11-10 with a walk-off balk in the bottom of the 11th. It was only the fifth balk that ended a game in the KBO's 36-year history, and the first since 1996.

"With all five of our starters pitching so well, we've been able to avoid losing streaks," manager Kim noted. "Hopefully, we'll be able to maintain this momentum as long as possible."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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