Victories by the Uni-President Lions and the EDA Rhinos over the past week have widened their lead over the Lamigo Monkeys and the Brother Elephants in the standings, clearly making it a two-team race for the first-half title.
Holding a slim half-game lead over the Rhinos in the standings are the Lions, who have already swapped places with the Rhinos for the lead in the standings several times as they have matched the surprising early success of their main rivals with a solid pitching staff that has the lowest team earned run average (ERA) of 3.00 and the productive hitting from a lineup that is batting .297, just 18 points behind the Rhinos’ league-leading .315 as of Wednesday.
Leading the way for the Lions are pitchers Ronald Bay and Luo Ching-lung, who have accounted for six of the Lions’ 18 wins from their starting role, and relief specialist Wang Ching-ming, who has three wins under his belt out of the Lions bullpen.
Offensively for the Cats, Chang “OEO” Tai-shan’s league-best 30 RBIs and Kao Chih-kang’s team-high .370 batting average help anchor a lineup that has plated a league-high 5.61 runs per game in the 28 games they have played through Wednesday.
The Lions are not the only team enjoying early success this season, as the EDA Rhinos have also surprised many with an 18-10-1 record to make believers even out of doubters who picked them to finish last in the standings, despite the addition of former Major League Most Valuable Player Manny Ramirez, along with major league-caliber sluggers Kao Gui-hui and Hu Chin-lung.
While the improvement on offense meets expectations as the Rhinos’ Kao Guo-ching, Ramirez, Hu, and Lin Yi-chuan lead the league in most of the offensive categories, the real surprise comes from their stingy pitching, which has been giving up less than 3.3 earned runs per game, a mind-boggling improvement compared with the Rhinos’ predecessors, the Sinon Bulls’ 5.39 last season.
Other than hired gun Andy Sisco’s two wins, the “transformed” Rhinos are getting it done with a pitching staff made up of Taiwanese players, headed by former No. 1 draft pick Lin Chen-hua, who is leading the league with five wins and a solid ERA of 2.83, more than a run lower than his 3.96 record last season.
“I am definitely getting more used to the hitters around the league and getting ahead of the hitters on the pitch count, which is why I am having a better year,” Lin said after being selected as Pitcher of the Month last month.
He has won all five of his starts since dropping the opener on March 24.