The rivals that kept from winning the South Korean home run title the past two seasons are all gone now, and Eric Thames of the NC Dinos is halfway to getting that elusive crown in 2016.
Entering the Korea Baseball Organization All-Star break, Thames is tops with 25 home runs in 72 games. He's three ahead of three players: Kim Jae-hwan of the Doosan Bears, Wilin Rosario of the Hanwha Eagles and Luis Jimenez of the LG Twins. Of the four, Thames has played the fewest games.
In his first KBO season in 2014, Thames, a former Toronto Blue Jay, hit 37 home runs. He finished behind Park Byung-ho (52) and Kang Jung-ho (40), two former teammates on the Nexen Heroes now playing for the Minnesota Twins and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Last year, Thames engaged Park in one of the most memorable home run duels in recent memory, but didn't even finish second at the end. Park led the way with 53, and Yamaico Navarro, a hard-hitting second baseman for the Samsung Lions, had 48, one more than Thames.
Navarro, too, is no longer playing in the KBO, having signed with the Japanese club Chiba Lotte Marines.
Thames was still voted the MVP over Park last year, thanks to the first 40-40 season in the league history with 47 homers and 40 steals.
This year, though, Thames hasn't run nearly as much -- only six steals in eight attempts so far -- and is clearly focused on conserving his energy. Hitting in the heart of a lethal lineup that also has speedsters, Thames doesn't necessarily have to swipe bags to contribute.
Thames is also the league leader in on-base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.730) and runs scored (73). He has an outside chance at winning the Triple Crown as the KBO leader in batting average, home runs and RBIs. He's sixth in batting average (.343) and tied for third in RBIs (73).
Choi Hyoung-woo of the Lions is the leader in both categories, with a .358 average and 76 RBIs.
The last KBO hitter to win the Triple Crown was Seattle Mariners' first baseman Lee Dae-ho, who did so for the Lotte Giants in 2010.
On the pitching side, Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears has a better shot at winning the Triple Crown of his own, as the league's No. 1 in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
He's currently on top with 12 wins and a 3.26 ERA. He's third in strikeouts with 92, five behind teammate Michael Bowden.
Yoon Suk-min of the Kia Tigers, who had a minor league stint in the Baltimore Orioles system two years ago, won the most recent KBO pitching Triple Crown in his 2011 MVP season. (Yonhap)