“The team is playing very aggressive and active baseball.”
That’s what LG Twins manager Yoon Kyung-yeop told me recently.
안전놀이터 He’s right, LG’s surge is frightening. With 22 games remaining, they are in sole possession of first place with 64 wins, two ties, and 38 losses. The gap between them and the second-place KT Wiz (58 wins, 2 ties, 46 losses) is a whopping seven games. Barring a major upset, the team is practically guaranteed to finish first in the regular season.
LG head coach Yeom Kyung-yup. Photo by Kim Young-gu
LG, which has been a force to be reckoned with since the beginning of the season, finished the first half of the season with 49 wins, two draws, and 30 losses. Although they didn’t reach the 50-win plateau, they still led the standings by 2.5 games over second-place SSG Landers. It was the first time in 26 years and the first time in the 21st century that LG had finished the first half in first place since 1997.
Of course, it hasn’t been without its ups and downs, the most recent of which came in mid-to-late July around the All-Star break, when the team struggled to keep its players healthy and lost five straight games due to frequent rain cancellations.
Fortunately, LG quickly turned things around when they made a trade with the Kiwoom Heroes, sending utility player Lee Ju-hyung and right-handed pitcher Kim Dong-kyu in exchange for right-handed starting pitcher Choi Won-tae. With Won-tae Choi in the fold, LG was able to resolve its homegrown starting rotation, which had been a perennial weakness, and by August, even Lee Jung-yong, who had been converted to a starter, had settled into his new role perfectly, creating a formidable starting rotation of Adam Plutko, Casey Kelly, Won-tae Choi, Chan-gyu Im, and Lee Jung-yong.
More recently, the players’ overwhelming confidence has also been an important driving force behind LG’s rise, with the Incheon SSG game on Nov. 19 being a prime example of this.
Trailing 0-1 at the time, LG put runners on first and second in the top of the third inning with a Park Hae-min walk and a Hong Chang-ki single to left. Despite a bunt by Shin Min-jae, who was at the plate at the time, Park Hae-min and Hong Chang-gi didn’t hesitate to double steal. The result: both players were safe. It was a play that could not have been made without confidence.
With the momentum in their favor, LG went on to score five runs in the inning, including Shin Min-jae’s RBI double to right, Kim Hyun-soo’s RBI single to right, Park Dong-won’s RBI groundout, and Moon Sung-joo’s RBI double to left-center field. With momentum on their side, LG scored six runs in the top of the eighth and ninth innings to complete the 11-2 victory.
Despite going against the bench’s instructions, the head coach was happy for the moment. “We practiced it in camp,” said LG manager Yoon Kyung-yeop recently. We trained to fake bunt for a strike if a runner runs for a stolen base, and to take the bat out when the ball comes,” he said with a bright smile, adding, “It’s hard to play (Park) Hae-min stealing bases with nobody out.”
Yeom welcomed the changes in his players. “They’ve really changed a lot, and one of the things that I think is very positive is that when they see a weakness in the other team, they try to exploit it. “The first thing I wanted to change (when I took over at the end of last year) was that we wanted to play aggressive baseball, not passive, not hesitant, and I thought that was the most important thing to change the LG,” he said.
“I emphasized to the players that we can only play ‘exciting baseball’ and ‘fun baseball’ if we do that. “The team is playing very aggressive and active baseball,” he said. “This is the direction LG should go. This is the direction LG needs to go.”
“When you make bold plays, you make a lot of mistakes,” he said, “and that’s the way LG should go. I think it’s because we expanded our range and it’s inevitable,” he said, “I never reprimand them. Even when you get an out, there’s something to be gained. If you tell me why you’re going to die because you overdo it, I don’t know what to say. The coach has to take that responsibility. The moment you talk about mistakes, the players become passive,” he explained.
“If we do this, our opponents will not be easy. We have to be careful and prepare a lot. Obviously, LG is a much trickier team than last year. We will continue to play (aggressive baseball), and that’s what LG baseball needs.” Regarding stolen bases, he added, “Everyone has a green light (to steal bases individually), but from this month, I will give a sign not to run unless there is a situation. I have to study the situations where I have to stop it. The players don’t have to study. They just have to be aggressive, and it’s up to me to put sanctions in place. That’s for me and the coaching staff to study,” he added.
Now the coach’s eyes are on the future, beyond this year’s postseason.
“Next year and the year after, (this kind of baseball) will be a little bit more detailed. Then our team will definitely be stronger. Then we will be able to play confident baseball in the postseason, not timid baseball.” Yeom said.