Perennial doormat Eagles soar to top of KBO standings

Monday is April Fools' Day, but this is not a joke. The Hanwha Eagles, regular occupants of the bottom of the standings in South Korean baseball in recent years, are leading the way in the early days of the 2024 season. And they are in first place in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) even as Ryu Hyun-jin, former National League All-Star and the very pitcher the Eagles signed in hopes of a turnaround this year, has gone winless in his first two starts so far. The Eagles haven't lost since dropping the Opening Day game against the defending champions LG Twins on March 23. Last week, the Eagles swept two postseason teams from 2023, the SSG Landers and the KT Wiz, to soar to first place for the first time since March 2014. If we adjust to the parameters of being in first place after at least seven games into a season, then you'd have to go back to April 2009. This was also the first time the Eagles swept back-to-back series since 2006. The Eagles are 7-1-0 (wins-losses-ties) so far. The last time they won seven out of their first eight games of a season came in 1992. These are heady times for the Eagles, who have been to the postseason only once in the past 11 seasons. They finished in last place five times during that period. Those 11 years were also the years when Ryu was pitching in Major League Baseball (MLB) following his first tour of duty with the Eagles from 2006 to 2012. The Eagles reached the Korean Series in Ryu's rookie year but haven't come close to even sniffing a title since. Eight games out of a 144-game season make for an extremely small sample size, but the quick start is enough to have sent the long-suffering fan base into a frenzy. The Eagles sold out all three games of their Friday-Sunday series against the Wiz, drawing 12,000 fans each day at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, some 140 kilometers south of Seoul. And the Eagles are winning games in different ways too. On Friday, they led 2-0 early before Ryu served up a pair of runs in the sixth to allow the Wiz to tie things up a t 2-2. Lim Jong-chan then came through with a walkoff double in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win, while two relievers after Ryu combined for three shutout innings. Two days later, they hammered the Wiz 14-3, scoring half of those runs in the second inning. They pounded out seven doubles, two home runs and a triple as part of their 18-hit day. The Eagles are leading the KBO with 54 runs scored and a .380 batting average with runners in scoring position. They also have the second-best ERA at 3.17. The last time they finished a season with a sub-4.00 ERA was 2007, Ryu's sophomore year. Ironically enough, Ryu is the only Eagles starter who has suffered a loss and who has not yet recorded a victory in 2024. He admitted to battling some nerves in his shakier-than-usual start on Opening Day, when he allowed five runs -- three unearned -- on six hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings versus the Twins. Ryu bounced back six days later, holding the Wiz to two runs and striking out nine batters in six innings. H e did not issue a walk. Ryu will take his third crack at earning his first win of the season this week, likely Thursday against the Lotte Giants at home. The Giants are only 1-6-0 to start this season, and the Eagles will be out for yet another sweep. That would stretch their winning streak to 10 games, which would be the longest such run in 25 years. Source: Yonhap News Agency