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Samsung Lions rumbling toward third-straight title

Here come the Lions.

The Samsung Lions, the two-time defending champs in the Korea Baseball Organization, have roared out of the gate in May.

They’re in the midst of a six-game winning streak that has catapulted them to second place at 19-10, just one game behind the Nexen Heroes with two games in hand.

The Lions have won the past two KBO crowns, and they’re looking to become only the second KBO team to win three consecutive championships.

After the first 15 games of this season through April 23, the Lions sat at 9-6, not a terrible start but only good for fifth place.

Manager Ryu Joong-il vowed then that his team would turn things around in their next 15 games.

Ryu proved to be quite the prophet, as the Lions have won 10 of the 14 games they’ve played since that day.

The Lions swept the Lotte Giants in their three-game series on the road in Busan from May 3-5. Then after four days off, the Lions picked up right where they left off, beating the Kia Tigers in three straight games starting last Friday.

The weekend sweep improved Samsung’s record against Kia to 5-1 this year. The Tigers have been regarded as the potential Korean Series opponent to the Lions but at least in the early going, Samsung has the upper hand.

In 2012, the Lions had an even slower start than this year and were mired in seventh place as late as May 29.

Their bullpen, traditionally the team’s strength, and opportunistic offense carried the Lions to third place by late June. They didn’t relinquish the top spot after July 8.

This year, the Lions have boasted a more lethal combination of pitching and offense. Their team ERA of 3.57 tops the league. Three starting pitchers ― Bae Young-soo, Yoon Sung-hwan and Jang Won-sam ― share the league lead with four victories apiece. Closer Oh Seung-hwan, already the KBO’s all-time leader with 257 saves, is in great form once again, with eight saves in 12 appearances and a minuscule 0.73 ERA. He has struck out 18 in 12 1/3 innings. (Yonhap News)