In this USA Today Sports photo via Reuters, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Chicago Cubs in the bottom of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Saturday. (USA Today)
With the first half of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) in the books, two South Korean pitchers have built some momentum for the remainder of the season, while two position players from the country will look to stay in the postseason hunt.
MLB will enter the All-Star break following the conclusion of games Sunday in the US (local time). Two South Korean starters, Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals, both won their final starts of the first half and have reasons to feel good about themselves entering the second half.
Kim, in particular, is on a roll, having won three consecutive starts while holding opponents scoreless in 15 straight innings. The latest gem came Saturday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where the left-hander gave up only five singles and struck out seven over six shutout innings.
Kim is 4-5 with a 3.11 ERA in his second big league season. He will try to lift the Cardinals, underachieving at 44-46 amid mounting injuries, back into the playoff picture in the second half.
Ryu beat the Baltimore Orioles for the third time this season Wednesday to finish his first half at 8-5 with a 3.56 ERA. The left-hander experienced command issues with his bread-and-butter changeup in some earlier outings, but the pitch worked effectively against the O's. Ryu said after the game that it was the best he'd felt with the changeup in quite some time.
Ryu and the Blue Jays (45-42) are battling Choi Ji-man and the Tampa Bay Rays (53-37) for a wild card in the American League (AL), with the Rays also having designs on taking the AL East division crown.
Choi missed some time at the beginning of the season with knee issues and has been flashing his signature on-base skills since making his 2021 debut on May 16.
Choi sports a .252/.381/.387 line in 37 games with three home runs and 19 RBIs. The Rays competed in the World Series last year, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games and appear capable of making another run this year.
They won six of their final seven games of the first half and lead the AL wild card race by two games over the Oakland Athletics. The Rays are also only 1.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox for the top spot in the AL East.
Kim Ha-seong and the San Diego Padres (53-40) are also in a playoff position at the end of the first half, as they occupy the second wild card spot in the National League behind their division rivals Dodgers. The Cincinnati Reds are 3.5 games behind the Padres.
Kim has been a versatile option for the Friars as a big league rookie, able to play solid defense at second base, third base and shortstop. He has left much to be desired at the plate, his occasional pop notwithstanding.
He has turned in some highlight reel-worthy defensive plays. Kim's biggest moment with the bat came on June 22, when he slugged a pinch-hit home run off the Dodgers' future Hall of Famer, Clayton Kershaw, in a 3-2 San Diego victory.
Kim sat out the Padres' final three games of the first half. He's batting .208/.269/.350 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 72 games, including 44 starts. (Yonhap)