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What happened to the NC Dinos?

May 14,2018
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From left: The NC Dinos’ pitchers Logan Verrett and Lim Chang-min, and infielder Park Sok-min. [NEWS1, YONHAP]
For the first two weeks of the season, everything seemed to be going the NC Dinos’ way. The Dinos, the perennial bridesmaids of the Korean baseball world, have come within bunting distance of the KBO series title for the past four seasons, but never quite managed to go the distance. It looked like things were going to be different this season - and then it all went wrong.

The Dinos, established in 2011, were promoted to the KBO in 2013. After a respectable debut season in 2013, the Dinos advanced to the postseason in 2014 and have continued to do so ever since. This year could be the first year since their debut season that the Dinos fail to reach the postseason, as they are currently second to last.

Things started going wrong for the Dinos at the start of April. The team fell into a nine-game losing streak from April 5, when they lost to the Samsung Lions. The losing streak ties the record for the worst in the club’s history, and proved to be a sign of things to come.

The Dinos’ biggest weakness this season is the pitchers, although looking at the statistics it doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Only three Korean pitchers - Son Min-han, Lee Tae-yang and Lee Jae-hak - in the club’s history have ever picked up more than 10 wins in a season. After Son retired in 2015 and Lee Tae-yang was released due to a match fixing scandal, things weren’t looking good for the Dinos.

Lee Jae-hak has pitched well this season, but his performance isn’t reflected in the numbers. He has picked up one win and four losses with an ERA of 3.88.

Making it worse, the club’s foreign pitchers aren’t helping. Wang Wei-chung, the KBO’s first-ever Taiwanese pitcher, made a successful debut, picking up three wins and a loss with a 2.40 ERA in seven games. But as this is his first season playing as a starter, after mostly playing as a relief pitcher in the United States, he has already ended up injured and is out of the entry.

The other foreign pitcher, Logan Verrett, hasn’t lived up to expectations, picking up just two wins and five losses with a 6.49 ERA in nine games this season.

The Dinos, famous for their “Moneyball” approach to scouting, have always been very effective in their recruitment of foreign pitchers. This season, something was wrong with the data.

As the Dinos don’t have the strongest starting pitchers, they’ve spent years improving the overall strength of their bullpen. During the 2016 season, the Dinos led the league in bullpen ERA, at 4.15, and in 2017, they finished second at 4.32.

But this year the bullpen hasn’t been much help, falling to last in bullpen ERA, exceeding 6.00. Some of the Dinos most well-known pitchers - Won Jong-hyun, Kim Jin-sung and Lim Chang-min - are either absent from the bullpen due to injury, or have already tired themselves out and are visibly struggling.

After tossing 71 innings during the 2014 season, Won had to take the entire 2015 season off, as he underwent colon cancer surgery. He made a successful return in 2016, picking up three wins, three losses, 17 holds and three saves with a 3.18 ERA in 70 2/3 innings. Last season, Won played a crucial role in leading the Dinos to the postseason, picking up 22 holds with 4.39 ERA in 80 innings.

But this season isn’t looking so good, as his ERA is at 7.15.

Kim Jin-sung is not much different. Since the 2016 season, Kim has tossed more than 80 innings. Last season, Kim picked up 10 wins, six losses and 16 holds with a 3.61 ERA, throwing 89 2/3 innings. This season is a very different story, with a win, two losses, two holds and an ERA of 9.00 from only 10 innings.

The Dinos have tried to fill the closer gap left by Lim, who is having elbow surgery in Japan today, with Yoo Won-sang and Bae Jae-hwan. In the past three seasons, Lim was ranked in the top 3 in the KBO for saves, and Yoo and Bae are struggling to replicate his success.

Things aren’t looking much better in the batting box. During the 2016 season the Dinos had the best batting lineup in the league, with Na Sung-bum, Eric Thames, Lee Ho-jun and Park Sok-min managing to hit 115 home runs and 425 RBIs between them.

Last season Eric Thames left for the Milwaukee Brewers, but his space was ably filled by Xavier Scruggs. Scruggs hit 35 home runs and 111 RBIs with a batting average of 0.300 in his first season. This year he’s struggling, with a batting average of 0.272, eight home runs and 24 RBIs.

Aside from Na, there isn’t a batter in the Dinos’ starting lineup that has a batting average above 0.300 this season.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]