A day goes by and a seat is vacant, but you don’t let it bother you. When you turn around, a new face appears. NC is shaking up the KBO’s top-tier race with its ‘depth’ baseball. This is something no one expected before the season.
Against SSG in Changwon on the 11th, the NC starting lineup was weak in name only. Seo Ho-cheol and Yoon Hyung-joon lined up in the infield, while Kim Sung-wook and Jeon Jae-hwan guarded the outfield. Captain Son As-seob was out on a rest day, and Park Min-woo, who had just returned from injury, didn’t start. Kwon Hee-dong, who had been the team’s best hitter since joining the first team last month, was also removed from the roster the day before due to a hamstring injury.
Nevertheless, the NC bats had no trouble attacking the SSG mound, where Kim Kwang-hyun started. Kim Sung-wook, who was promoted to the first team in place of Kwon Hee-dong, had two hits, and Jae-hyun Hwan, who hadn’t started much, had three hits. Do Tae-hoon, who came in as a pinch hitter during the game, hit the game-winning two-run double in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and the score tied at 4-4. With the win, NC extended its winning streak to five games and moved within half a game of Lotte for third place. The team is a scary 8-1 in June.
NC leads the league with a 0.772 team OPS in June. Son As-seop and Park Gun-woo have been the centerpieces of the batting order, and Jason Martin, who was in a slump, has revived with a 13-game hitting streak through the 11th. Players such as Do Tae-hoon, Seo Ho-cheol, and Yoon Hyung-joon, who were categorized as backups before the start of the season, are also playing well. In addition, Park Seok-min has returned from injury and Park Min-woo is waiting in the wings. The roster has thickened to the point where the loss of one or two players is hardly noticeable.
The mound height has also increased. All of the original starters from the opening series, including Koo Chang-mo, Shin Min-hyuk, and Song Myung-ki, are gone, but the Futures League’s Lee Jae-hak and Choi Sung-young have stepped up to the plate.
The bullpen is even younger and stronger than the starters. With closer Lee Yong-chan out for the WBC drinking binge, Kim Si-hoon has gone 1-0 with two saves in four appearances in June. Kim Young-gyu and Lim Jung-ho, who were the centerpiece of the bullpen last season, have been joined by Ryu Jin-wook, Ha Jun-young, and Cho Min-seok, and Kim Jin-ho is recovering from injury.
Shin Min-hyuk, Oh Young-soo, Han Seok-hyun, and others are waiting to return after consulting with the Futures League. On the 12th, Choi Jung-won and Bae Min-seo were released from the team. They are players who can be used in the first team, but there is no place for them right now, which is NC’s ‘happy problem’.
“Baseball is not a game dominated by one or two superstars,” NC captain Son Asub says whenever he gets the chance. In June, NC is proving him right. Yang Ji and Noh Jin-hyuk, who have been the backbone of NC for the past few years, have moved on after last season. After the start of the season, the team continued to lose star players due to poor performance or injury. However, they managed to hold on to the mid-table in April and May, and are looking to leap to the top in June. They are two games behind second-place LG and 3.5 games behind first-place SSG. This is the power of NC’s version of “depth baseball 안전놀이터.