SEOUL, 10 June (BelTA -Yonhap News). - In one of the most remarkable turnarounds in South Korean baseball this season, the Kia Tigers have gone from the worst to first in team home runs.
They managed only 66 home runs in 144 games last season. Through 57 games this season, though, the Tigers have already hit 52, seven more than the LG Twins to lead the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). The Tigers will most likely surpass last year's total before the end of June.
In a related development, the Tigers, after finishing last in the league with 568 runs in 2021, are leading the KBO with 297 runs so far in 2022.
Of those 297 runs, 95 runs have been scored via home runs, also tops in the KBO.
Some of the new faces have done the heavy lifting in the long ball department.
The Tigers opened their wallet to nab former NC Dinos slugger Na Sung-bum in free agency this past winter. Na had 33 home runs in 2021, exactly half as many as the entire Tigers team had, and has contributed nine homers so far in 2022.
Socrates Brito, the new foreign outfielder, shook off a dismal start in April and now leads the club with 10 home runs. The KBO's Player of the Month for May went yard twice in Thursday's 5-1 victory over the LG Twins. That win snapped the Tigers' losing skid at three.
Park Dong-won, who arrived in a trade from the Kiwoom Heroes in April, has hit six homers in 36 games as a Tiger.
Elsewhere, the 26-year-old infielder Hwang Dae-in is in the midst of his most productive season to date. After setting a career high with 13 homers in 86 games last year, Hwang is already up to nine homers in 56 games this season, including one Thursday.
Then there's the 38-year-old veteran Choi Hyoung-woo, who had looked lost earlier in the season before finding his groove in recent days. He did not go deep once in April but homered in two straight games to kickstart June.
The Tigers last led the KBO in home runs in 2004, when they hit 143 home runs in a 133-game season. In the ensuing seasons, though, they have ranked last in that category five times -- 2007, 2008, 2012, 2019 and 2021.
Relying on long balls isn't a sustainable approach to winning ball games, but the Tigers may not have a choice at the moment, as their mediocre rotation has been hit by injuries to their two foreign pitchers, Sean Nolin (calf) and Ronnie Williams (elbow).
Against this backdrop, Tigers manager Kim Jong-kook said after Thursday's victory that he was heartened by a solid outing from hard-luck starter Im Gi-yeong. The right-hander finally earned his first win of the season in his eighth start, despite having previously recorded five quality starts -- an outing in which a starter goes at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs.
But Kim also gave credit to his potent lineup.
"With Hwang Dae-in hitting that two-run homer in the first inning, we were able to grab some early momentum," Kim said. "Then Socrates homered in back-to-back at-bats, and that was huge for us. We scored runs when we had to."