Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Three-team race develops in Taiwan league play

By Paul Huang  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Two months into the CPBL season and the league is clearly divided into two distinct packs: the top three, and the bottom three. Which team out of the top three will claim the regular season title and win the right to play in the postseason championship series has become a hot topic around the league.

As of May 8th, the top three is consist of the Sinon Bulls, the President Lions and the ChinaTrust Whales, while the Brother Elephants, the Makoto Gida, and the First Securities Agan round out the bottom.

After starting the season with a 10-1 record to claim an early lead in league standings through the end of March, the Bulls appeared to have lost some steam in early April, fiving up the lead to the Lions.

Just when the Bulls' early success came into question, they rose to the occasion and won convincingly by sweeping the Lions in a four-game series last week to reclaim the lead in league standings.

Propelled by third baseman Chang Tai-shan's (張泰山) recent offensive surge (batting .354 with 11 home runs and 37 RBI's; offensive MVP for April), the Bulls are leading the league in team batting average and a close second to the Lions in total RBI's at 162.

Four games behind the Bulls are the Lions, which is in the middle of a six-game losing streak. Despite the Lions' recent losing skid, most insiders still believe that the race to win the regular season title will boil down to the Lions versus the Bulls, because the Lions simply are doing too many things right well.

Era kings

In addition to leading the league in total RBI's with 158, the Lions enjoy the best ERA in the league at 3.01 thru May 7th. If it weren't for a couple of tough breaks in the series against the Bulls last week, the Lions could easily be just one or two games behind the Bulls.

When asked by local Chinese-language media to comment on his team's chances in winning the regular season title, first-year Lion manager Hsieh Chang-hern (謝長亨) said: "As long as we are within three games of the Bulls, it's anyone's title.

We really match up well against the Bulls as far as pitching and hitting, the biggest difference is team defense. A good defense brings added confidence to a pitcher and often becomes the difference in a close game," Hseih said.

Playing the role of a potential "spoiler" are the ChinaTrust Whales, which fought hard with the Makoto Gida up till two weeks ago as one of the middle-of-the-pack teams.

Thanks to a timely eight-game non-losing streak from mid-April to early May, the Whales separated themselves from the Gida to take the sole position of the third-place spot in league standings and prove that they indeed belong to the top three.

The Whales could be the dark horse of the first half if they can peak at the right time.

Only a half game behind the second-placed Lions, the Whales made the most out of ace hurler Hiroaki Nakayama's four-game winning streak and power hitter Hung Chi-fong's (洪啟峰) league-best .392 batting average during its eight-game non-losing streak. Nakayama's outstanding April (3-0 with 1.09 ERA; 5-1with 1.69 ERA for the season) earned him the defensive MVP of the month honor.

Skipper Lin Chung-chiou (林仲秋) said: "Even though all the numbers are pointing to the Bulls, I believe right now we are on a roll and we can play with just about any team in the league, as long as we cut down on the number of errors we commit."

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