Ahn Chi-hong, Noh Jin-hyuk, and Jeong Hoon’s luxury infield… Lotte 8th Chiol a reality?

The Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO)스포츠토토 are ready for the ‘8th Chi-Ol’ as they defeated the KIA Tigers behind the offensive prowess of their prestigious infield of Ahn Chi-hong, Noh Jin-hyuk and Jeong Hoon.

Lotte defeated KIA 6-1 at home at Sajik Stadium in Busan on the 13th to keep their top-five hopes alive. The win followed a three-game series against the Kiwoom Heroes in midweek to cut the gap to sixth-placed KIA to one-and-a-half games.

The difference between the two teams was made in the infield, where Lotte’s keystone combination (shortstop + second baseman) backed up starter Charlie Barnes’ seven innings of one-run ball with errorless defence. Shortstop Noh Jin-hyuk drove in the game-winning run with a two-run double in the bottom of the third inning, while second baseman Park Seung-wook showed off his hot bat with a 3-for-4 performance.

Kia was hampered by errors. In the bottom of the third inning, with runners on first and second, Lee Jung-hoon’s direct hit was missed by second baseman Kim Kyu-sung. Kia manager Kim Jong-guk immediately switched to Choi Jeong-yong at second base in an attempt to turn things around, but he gave up singles to Park Seung-wook and Noh Jin-hyuk, giving up five runs in the inning. Starter Mario Sanchez allowed just one earned run.

Lotte Giants’ Jung Hoon rounds third base after hitting a one-run home run against the KIA Tigers at Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on 30 March. Yonhap
Infielders Ahn Chi-hong and Jeong Hoon were the stars of the first game of the series, a 7-1 victory over KIA on the 11th. After pulling a fastball from KIA starter Thomas Pannoni over the left field fence in the bottom of the first inning in a 10-pitch contest, second baseman Ahn Chi-hong followed a ball hit by Choi Hyung-woo to the end of the inning to complete Aaron Wilkerson’s six-inning no-hitter.

Jung Hoon, who started at first base, also hit a one-run homer in the bottom of the second inning and then made a crucial diving catch in a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh to preserve the win. Kia’s first baseman Choi Won-jun, on the other hand, had a contrasting performance, making a throwing error in the bottom of the eighth that led to an unearned run.

The stability in Lotte’s infield has also led to strong performances from foreign starting pitchers and a winning series. Ahn Chi-hong has been playing the role of centre fielder to perfection, batting .441 with two home runs and seven RBIs in nine games this month, while Park Seung-wook has been on a tear, batting .345 in 10 games. Noh Jin-hyuk has also overcome an abysmal 0.109 batting average last month with this series.

Sports TV commentator Min Hoon-ki told The Seoul Shinmun, “Lotte’s infield has been solid defensively with a mix of old and new. “The key factors for victory are defence and pitching,” he said, adding, “Several decisive defensive plays were the driving force behind the weekend series. With the Wilkerson-Barnes one-two punch still in place, if Park Se-woong and Na Gyun-an can come alive, they can make a run at the top five.”

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