The Hanwha Eagles, a perennial doormat in the Korea Baseball Organization, find themselves in an unfamiliar position in the 2018 season: third place in the standings.
With 10 wins and eight losses, the Eagles are alone in third, two games back of the SK Wyverns and four behind the league-leading Doosan Bears.
Here are some facts that illustrate how bad they have been in recent years. By opening the season at 10-8, the Eagles have reached 10 victories before suffering 10 losses for the first time since 2006. And the last time they've been in third place after at least 10 games was May 2, 2015, when they were 15-11.
There are still 126 games remaining in this season and cynical Eagles fans, who last saw their team in the postseason in 2007, may say it only means there are 126 opportunities to screw up.
|Members of the Hanwha Eagles celebrate their 15-4 win over the Kia Tigers in a Korea Baseball Organization game at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, on April 12, 2018. (Yonhap)|
At least so far, the Eagles seemed to have addressed two glaring problems that have slowed them in recent years: bullpen and hitting.
Though their overall ERA of 5.49 only puts them in eighth place, the Eagles are first with a 4.14 ERA from their relief corps. During the recent 8-2 surge, relievers Song Eun-beom, An Young-myung and Lee Tae-yang have been bailing out shaky starters.
Song, An and Lee were all fighting for a spot in the rotation in spring and just missed out. But they have been thriving in the bullpen, with Song leading all KBO relievers with 16 innings pitched and three relief wins. The right-hander has an ERA of 1.69 in those innings.
And then there is An, who has yet to give up an earned run in six relief innings after making one start early in the season. Lee has been touched for four earned runs in nine innings but he has eaten up innings and stopped the bleeding in key moments.
Also emerging from the pen has been Seo Kyun, who hasn't been scored upon in 8 2/3 innings.
The Eagles lead the KBO with 74 innings pitched by their relievers, but some veteran workhorses, such as Song Chang-sik, Kwon Hyuk and Park Jung-jin, are biding their time in the minors and should be able to alleviate some pressure later in the season.
And the bats have been doing their part as well, helping the Eagles to seven come-from-behind victories already in 2018.
With Song Kwang-min leading the KBO with a .400 batting average and 25 RBIs, and teammate Jared Hoying right behind him at .397, the Eagles finally have a lineup that can put runs on the board. They have the third-highest team batting average at .291 and have scored the third-most runs with 112.
They haven't been in the top three in runs scored since 2007, which is also the last time they made the playoffs. (Yonhap)