By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- There are many different ways to measure the excellence of a baseball team. And sitting atop the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) standings after the first month of the season, the NC Dinos check off many boxes.
Offense? They lead the league with 152 runs scored, a .370 on-base percentage and a .482 slugging percentage. Long balls? They have gone deep 35 times, more than any other club. Pitching? Their staff has the league-low 3.73 ERA, and they have given up fewer runs than anyone with 92. With 1.30 in walks and hits per innings (WHIP), the Dinos have allowed the fewest base runners per inning in the KBO. Opponents have put up just .243/.318/.378 in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage against the Dinos, each of them the lowest in the league.
These gaudy numbers translate into the league-leading record of 18-5, two games better than the LG Twins.
Leading the early season surge has been the brilliant performance by the 23-year-old starter Koo Chang-mo.
The fifth-year left-hander tossed six shutout innings against the Samsung Lions on Sunday, as the Dinos cruised to an 18-7 victory. At 4-0, Koo is tied for the KBO lead in wins. He is alone at the top in innings pitched (35), strikeouts (38), ERA (0.51) and WHIP (0.60).
Koo has already locked down the Pitcher of the Month award for May, as the KBO's ERA leader for the month.
He is expected to be up for the Player of the Month, too, with a first-year import slugger for the league's second-best team also likely to contend for the honor.
Roberto Ramos, the new cleanup hitter for the Twins, swung a hot bat in May, to the tune of the league-leading 10 home runs. He also leads the KBO with an .813 slugging percentage and 1.263 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
The defining moment for Ramos in the early going came on May 24, when he delivered a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 9-7 victory over the KT Wiz. It was only the second walkoff slam in franchise history.
The defending champions Doosan Bears are lurking in third place at 14-9, four games back of the Dinos. The Bears have the league's worst ERA, and their defense is rated as the most porous in the KBO by advanced fielding metrics. Without the hitting brilliance of Jose Miguel Fernandez, the Bears would be far lower in the standings.
The second-year Cuban designated hitter tops the KBO with 44 hits and a .468 batting average. He is also among the league leaders in doubles, total bases, runs scored, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
In the lower part of the standings, the Hanwha Eagles have fallen to last place at 7-17 by losing their past eight straight games. That included a three-game series sweep against the SK Wyverns, who climbed out of the league cellar on the final day of May.
The Wyverns once suffered a 10-game losing slide but are now riding a four-game winning streak that has taken them to 7-16.
They have had rotten luck with injuries early in the season, having lost starting catcher Lee Jae-won, slugging outfielder Han Dong-min and No. 1 starter Nick Kingham for multiple weeks. But they received an unexpected boost over the weekend.
Lee Heung-ryun, a third-string catcher with the Bears who joined the Wyverns in a four-player trade Friday, has homered in each of his first two games in an SK uniform, while batting 4-for-8 with three RBIs.
The Kiwoom Heroes and the Kia Tigers are tied for fourth place at 12-12, with the Lotte Giants, last-place team from 2019, sitting half a game back at 11-12.
The KT Wiz have underachieved so far at 10-13, with the KBO's worst bullpen having blown a league-high six saves.
The Samsung Lions, having missed the postseason for a franchise-worst four consecutive years, look destined to be spectators for yet another season with an underwhelming 10-14 record.
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