It’s the bullpen again. The Lotte Giants’ bullpen is faltering again. In contrast to the starting lineup that has been transformed since May, it has been falling apart as the weather heats up.

Lotte fell to a 3-12 defeat in their 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League home game against the LG Twins at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on Aug. 8. After snapping a three-game losing streak in the previous six games, Lotte was unable to continue the momentum and dropped the game.

Lotte sent out right-hander Park Se-woong to start the game. He had been pitching well this season, ranking fifth in the league in ERA (2.50) before this game, and since May, he has been one of the best in the league with a 4-1 record and a 1.71 ERA.

Park hasn’t been able to continue the trend of posting quality starts (6+ innings, 3 earned runs or less) in his previous eight games. He gave up a two-run homer to No. 4 Austin Dean in the first inning and a single to right field in the third. Despite the early deficit, Park battled through five innings to keep the game tied at 3-3.

In the top of the sixth, Park gave up a run on a single by Oh Ji-hwan and a walk to Park Dong-won, followed by an RBI single by Moon Bo-kyung. Park then induced a grounder to shortstop to put runners on second and third, prompting Lotte to bring in left-hander Kim Jin-wook. However, Kim gave up a two-run double to left field to Shin Min-jae with runners on second and third, extending the lead to 6-3.

The seventh inning was even worse. After LG put runners on first and second to start the inning, Lotte switched pitchers to Jung Sung-jong. However, after a sacrifice bunt, LG added to its lead with a double by Park Dong-won and a single by Park Hae-min. LG scored three more runs off reliever Shim Jae-min with Hong Chang-ki’s RBI double and Son Ho-young’s RBI single to left to complete the six-run big inning. Lotte made three pitching changes in the seventh inning alone as Jin Seung-hyun closed out the inning. After giving up nine runs in just two innings in the sixth and seventh, Lotte eventually lost momentum.

The bullpen has been one of Lotte’s problems lately. Against Hanwha in Daejeon on May 5, they rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the top of the eighth, but gave up a two-run double to Choi Jae-hoon in the bottom of the inning to take the loss. On March 25, Jamsil LG Electronics scored a run in the top of the sixth inning despite shaky pitching from starter Dan Straily, but Kim Sang-soo, Koo Seung-min, and Kim Won-joong gave up a combined six runs (four earned) in a 3-7 loss.안전놀이터

This is reflected in their record. Through eight games, Lotte’s bullpen has a 5.17 ERA this season, which ranks last in the 10-team league. That’s a far cry from the league average (4.12) and worse than Samsung’s bullpen (5.06), which ranks 10th. While the bullpen has the fewest innings pitched (257⅔), it’s not producing the quality. Compare that to the starting staff, which has the fourth-best ERA (3.78) in the league over the same period.

In fact, earlier in the season, Lotte started the season on a different note. In the month of April, Lotte ranked sixth in saves with a 4.35 ERA. It’s not a stellar record, but with the starters faltering (5.03 ERA, 10th), the role of the bullpen was crucial. At the time, Lotte was able to secure games with quick pitching changes.

Since May, however, Lotte has stabilized, with a starting ERA of 3.29, second only to the Kiwoom Heroes (3.13). The bullpen, on the other hand, remains dead last with a 5.55 ERA.

Aside from “long-haired closer” Kim Won-joong (5-1, 15 saves, 2.91 ERA), Lotte’s other players have been up and down this year. Set-up man Koo Seung-min has 12 saves, but has faltered in his last 10 games with a 6.52 ERA. Kim Sang-soo (4.55 ERA) and Kim Jin-wook (4.50 ERA), who were the mainstays of Lotte’s early season surge, have not been the same as of late. Neither Choi Jun-yong, last season’s closer, nor Han Hyun-hee, a free agent who recently joined the bullpen, have gotten back on track.

Recently, LOTTE manager Larry Sutton pointed out to the bullpen that “when pitchers get tired, their pitches can fall off,” adding, “They can’t always be in good shape, so they have to find their pitches in that situation and find a way to fight the opposing hitters.” But it hasn’t quite worked out the way he hoped.

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