How far can the miracle-working KT Wiz go?
KT was in last place at the beginning of June, but two months later, they’re in third place with no game difference to second-place SSG Landers.
With a win-loss margin of -14 to +11, they are being called the miracle team of the 2023 season.
KT has the strongest starting lineup in the 10 clubs. As KT manager Lee Kang-cheol said, “For our team, the sixth inning feels like an early game,” and KT starters are able to go through not only the sixth but also the seventh inning.
The team with the most quality starts this season is KT with 48, and KT also leads the league in quality starts plus (7 innings or more with 3 earned runs or less) with 26.
Since June, KT is 40-17 with a 7.2% winning percentage, far ahead of the second-place LG Twins (32-1 with a 0.615 winning percentage). In particular, out of the 32 games with quality starts, KT is 27-5 with a winning percentage of 8.44%. KT’s winning formula of a starter going six or more innings, the offense scoring enough runs to win, and keeping the game close has certainly been working well since June, when the injuries returned.
The five starters, consisting of William Cuevas, Wes Benjamin, and Ko Young-pyo, have been so steady that they can even be considered a contender against the top-ranked LG for now. The starting pitching is one of the reasons why LG coach Yeom Kyung-yeop admits that “KT is playing a much more stable game than us right now.”
However, there is a weakness that is masked by the starting pitching. It’s the bullpen. The bullpen is small, with only Kim Jae-yoon as the closer and Park Young-hyun and Son Dong-hyun as the set-up men. If the starter throws around six innings, Son Dong-hyun, Park Young-hyun, and Kim Jae-yoon will protect the win. If the starters go less than five innings, they struggle.
Since June, KT’s starters have gone five innings or more versus five innings or less, and while the team is 32-7 with a winning percentage of 8.2/1 in games with five or more innings, the team is 8-10 in games with five or fewer innings pitched.
LG, with its abundance of quality starters, was quite different from KT. When their starters went more than five innings, they went 15-1 with a winning percentage of 6.05, and when they went five innings or less, they went 16-12 with a winning percentage of 5.07. Even when the starters went down early, the bullpen was able to close out the game.
KT started Lee Sun-woo in place of the rested Ko Young-pyo against the Hanwha Eagles on the 18th, but Lee gave up a bunch of runs in the bottom of the fourth inning with a 4-2 lead and lost 6-11. A five-game winning streak was halted. After Lee Sun-woo, Lee Chae-ho, Ha Joon-ho, Kim Min-min and Park Se-jin came on, but they couldn’t catch up as Hanwha gave up more runs.
The problem is September. In the end, the standings will be decided by the rest of the schedule. But that’s when the Asian Games come around, and key players will be away with their national teams. How the team fills the gap when key players are out could be the key to the standings battle. KT has Kang Baek-ho and Park Young-hyun on the national team. Filling Young-hyun’s void is a top priority. Right now, Young-hyun is indispensable for KT. He is the setup man in front of the closer Kim Jae-yoon and also serves as the closer on days when Kim Jae-yoon is not pitching. Through 18 days, he has appeared in 54 games with a 3-3 record, 3 saves, 24 holds, and a 3.12 ERA. He leads the league in holds. 안전놀이터
KT manager Lee Kang-cheol had been considering Kim Min-soo, who recorded 30 saves last year, as a backup setup man to replace Park, but Kim suffered a fractured ankle in training and is out for the season.
The extent to which KT can bolster its bullpen will be crucial to its chances of not only making the playoffs but also challenging for the top spot.