The Lotte Giants are aiming to make a big leap in the second half of the 2023 season after overcoming the biggest hurdle since the start. The manager has set a goal of ‘seven wins’.
Lotte manager Larry Sutton took time to reflect on the month of June ahead of the team’s seventh game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League against the Doosan Bears at Munsu Baseball Stadium in Ulsan on June 1.
“As everyone knows, we started the regular season with good results in April and May,” Sutton said. “In June, our bullpen pitchers were tired and we had a lot of injuries, which affected our performance. It was a combination of that and our hitting cycle, and we struggled in June.”
Through May, Lotte had a season record of 27 wins and 17 losses with a win-loss margin of +10. They were in third place, two games behind the first-place LG Twins and one game behind the second-place SSG Landers. Up until this point, Lotte’s “momentum” was not going to fade away.
The start of June wasn’t bad either. Up until their three-game 스포츠토토 series against the KIA Tigers at Sajik on June 2-4, Lotte was on a roll.
However, the crisis began when they were swept by the KT Wiz in Sajik on June 6-8. They broke the losing streak by beating the Samsung Lions on June 9, but dropped games on June 10 and 11 in a losing series. They then returned to action and faltered in a midweek three-game series against the Hanwha Eagles.
They followed that up with a nine-game series in the Seoul metropolitan area against SSG (Incheon), KT (Suwon), and LG (Jamsil), all of which ended in a losing series. Dedicating another sweep to KT, the team’s mood quickly sank. By the fourth week of June, the team had lost 6 games in a row and was -10 for the month, dropping their season record to 31 wins and 31 losses. With one game behind fifth-place Doosan, two games behind sixth-place Kiwoom, and 2.5 games behind seventh-place KT, concerns about falling into the mid-table were growing.
The bad news continued with outfielder Ahn Kwon-soo out for the first half due to surgery and injuries to starting shortstop Noh Jin-hyuk, veteran right fielder Jung Hoon, and ace Na Kyun-an. The dreaded “DTD” began to follow Lotte around.
Lotte first breathed a sigh of relief with a two-game come-from-behind victory over Samsung on June 27-28, followed by an extra-inning victory over Doosan on June 30 and a three-game winning streak. The loss to Doosan on July 1 snapped their winning streak, but they still trailed third-place NC by 0.5 games, making the race for the top spot more interesting at the end of the first half.
The return of key players sidelined by injuries is also imminent. Na Kyun-an is almost certain to start against the Hanwha Eagles in Daejeon on April 4. Noh Jin-hyuk and Jeong Hoon are on track to return to the first team after gaining experience in the Futures League. Right-hander Choi Jun-yong, who served as a set-up man until last year, is also returning to form. With a full complement of players, the team is well positioned to challenge for as many wins as possible before the All-Star break on April 14.
Sutton is hopeful about the outlook for July because of this. While he didn’t specify a target number of wins for the remainder of the first half, he is confident that the entire squad can bounce back now that they’re over the hump.
“Lotte’s performance in June wasn’t bad per se. There were some games where we were winning and then lost late, but overall the quality was good,” Sutton said. “There were a lot of games that we lost unfortunately, so I would say there were more positives than negatives,” he explained.
“When I say quality, I mean that the players fought hard on the field. “What I’m hoping for is that we’ll continue to find ways to win every day until our injured players get back,” he concluded, “and that we’ll be able to turn it around in July and have a month where we’re on a roll.
While Sutton is focusing more on the positives than the negatives, it’s hard not to be optimistic about Lotte’s July. While the starting rotation has been steady, the batting lineup has had its ups and downs.
Against Doosan on July 1, the bats failed to capitalize on several scoring opportunities. In order for Sutton’s dream of a “seven-hit team” to be realized, the key is to realize the same two-hit balance as in April and May.