The Lotte Giants of the KBO League, who started the season with a nine-game winning streak that propelled them to sole possession of first place, have been on a downward spiral since June. They are 5-13 (.278 winning percentage) in June, including two four-game losing streaks. They’ve also dropped to fourth place (32-30) in the standings, reaffirming the baseball theory that teams that go down go down.

There’s a similar team in the American League. The Pittsburgh Pirates. After a seven-game winning streak in April and a six-game winning streak in late May and early June, Pittsburgh was in first place in the National League Central through the last 16 days. With the help of youngsters like No. 1 starter Mitch Keller, slugging center fielder Zack Swinski, and super utility man Bae Ji-hwan, the Fire outperformed pre-season expectations of a last-place finish.메이저놀이터

However, a sudden nine-game losing streak from April 14-22 sent them plummeting from first to second and third to fourth in the standings. While the NL Central is a tight race, Pittsburgh’s performance has also been shaky enough to drop three spots in just five games.

In the meantime, the gap between them and the Cincinnati Reds (40-35), who have won 11 straight games to move into first place in the division, has widened to five games. With the wild card fight tough, winning the district is the only way to get to fall ball, and at this rate, it’s not looking easy.

Pittsburgh’s fall has been largely due to injuries to key players. Shortstop Yoenis Cruz underwent surgery for a fractured left leg after nine games and is out for the first half of the season, while pitchers Collin Holderman (wrist), Jose Hernandez (calf) and Rob Zastriszny (forearm) are on the disabled list, and center fielders Brian Reynolds (back) and Andrew McCutchen (elbow) have also missed time recently.

The absences are showing on the field. According to MLB.com, the team is batting just 1-for-6 during its nine-game losing streak, including three scoreless losses. Runners in scoring position are batting less than 1-for-8. The bullpen has been a complete disaster with a 9.62 ERA. Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said, “Every team is dealing with injuries. There are no excuses. We’re testing our depth right now.”

[Photo] Pittsburgh’s Bae Ji-hwan. ⓒGettyimages (All rights reserved)

[Photo] Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. ⓒGettyimages (All rights reserved)

The good news is that first baseman Choi Ji-Man (32) is close to returning to action. Choi, who hasn’t played since April 14, was placed on the 60-day disabled list on April 20 with a confirmed Achilles tendon injury in his left foot. He is nearing the end of a two-month rehab assignment and is expected to make a rehab start at Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis in the near future.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh sports medicine director Todd Tomchick said, “We expect him to need five to seven rehab games. The most important thing is for him to get his timing back. His input and feedback will be invaluable in helping Coach Shelton and the staff stay on top of things.”

Since arriving in Pittsburgh via trade from the Tampa Bay Rays last November, Choi has struggled in nine games this season, batting 1-for-32 with two doubles, two home runs and an OPS of .469. It hasn’t been without injury impact. In eight big league seasons, Choi has batted .495 with 63 homers, 227 RBIs, and a .767 OPS in 495 games, so barring injury, we can expect average production. Pittsburgh, with its prolonged batting slump, needs Choi’s power.

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