Rachel Phelps may not be known by everyone, but to baseball movie buffs she is the money-hungry owner of the Cleveland Indians in the 1989 classic Major League. Phelps does everything she can to lower attendance and make the Indians finish dead last in order to relocate the team to sunny Miami and make a couple extra dollars. In the movie, the players band together to stick it to their greedy, out-of-touch owner and eventually reach the playoffs, despite zero support from their city and ownership.
In Taiwan, a similar situation is brewing, but there is no Miami for the EDA Rhinos. The ownership of the franchise has decided to put the team up for sale, not by coincidence, during one of the team’s worst losing stretches since its incorporation into the league in 2013.
Focus Taiwan reports that because of the Rhinos’ recent performance, ownership conducted a thorough evaluation of their team and concluded that the overall cost-performance ratio was far lower than the expectations of the fans and the businesses that support the Rhinos.Rhinos GM ,Wang Kuei Lin (王癸琳), said he hopes that all members of the Rhinos will improve their performances in the second half of this season and demonstrate their individual value as well as their value to the team, according to the same report.
Let me paraphrase, from the point of view of the EDA corporation: You're losing games, we are losing money. We don't want to support you anymore due to the whole money-losing thing but we hope you can keep smiling while your livelihood is in jeopardy. And don't forget to improve your performance and display your value so we can better determine a proper value of our assets in order to make the most money once a new buyer has approached us.
If you guessed that the team started playing better after the front office and owners threw everybody under the bus, then you would be very wrong. After losing all support from the higher-ups, the Rhinos lost four straight games by a combined score of 30-5 and slashed a sad .216/.266/.261 before finally winning the last game of the first half, 12-4 over the Chinatrust Brothers.
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On May 30, the EDA Rhinos sat 1.5 games behind the Chinatrust Brothers for first place with one month remaining on the first half-season schedule. Since then, it has been a bumpy road for the Rhinos and their players as the team finished the month with a 2-12 record, finished nine games out of first and had two separate losing streaks of seven games.
So, you can see why the owners might not be thrilled, but it doesn't justify turning your back on the players and coaches when there is still half a season to improve. This was the second-best team in the league after two-and-a-half months and was the only team that had a chance to knock off the Brothers for first place.
But let's try to shed some light on the positives, unlike a certain GM, and try to throw a little support at the players and their situation. Because under all this negative press and drama, there is a ball club that is actually much better than their June record indicates.
The Best Pitching and Defense
The Rhinos are on top of the league in almost every pitching category: team ERA, WHIP, least runs allowed and least hits allowed. Heading into the last week of the first half, the combination of starters Mike Loree and Scott Richmond had produced a combined 13-10 record over 39 starts. They had thrown 170.1 innings with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Loree and Richmond have been the most consistent one-two starters in the league as Loree is second in ERA, first in strikeouts and tied for first in wins, while Richmond is tied for second in wins and did have the third-best ERA before his final start of the first half.
The Rhinos defense is also no secret. The club leads the league in fielding percentage and double plays. Sometimes you hear about a team being strong up the middle and that basically means that their catcher, shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder are all above average defenders. It's safe to say the Rhinos are, in fact, strong up the middle.
The catcher, No. 20 Lin Kung Sheng, has a career caught-stealing percentage of .378 which is the best in the league against the other eight rostered catchers. He also has a fielding percentage of 0.993 so far in 2016.
The Rhinos’ 219 double plays lead the league in that category by 20 percent. The horned-herbivores are averaging 3.65 double plays a game and that has a lot to do with their middle infield, which consists of rookie shortstop No. 59 Lo Kuo Lin and second baseman No. 64 Lin Wei Ting. Statistically, Lin is the better player defensively, with his .973 fielding percentage, and Lo has the bigger bat as he currently owns a 1.010 OPS in his first full season in the CPBL.
Roaming center field, when healthy, is uber-athlete No. 1 Lin Che Hsuan. Lin is basically a five-tool guy and arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league. He covers a lot of ground and has the arm of a right-fielder. Covering the other three tools, the former Boston Red Sox prospect can hit (.317 batting average and .430 on-base percentage in 2016), can hit for power (.968 OPS and nine home runs over 161 at-bats) and has speed (164 stolen bases over seven season in the minor leagues). Lin has missed most of June.Major League Experience
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No other team in the league can put together a lineup that has this much MLB affiliated experience. The Rhinos currently roster four players who have played in the show with outfielders Lin Che Hsuan, Hu Chin Lung and pitchers Ni Fu Te and Scott Richmond. Between the four of them, they have 221 games of MLB experience.
Add in Kao Kuo Hui, Jared Lansford and Mike Loree and now we are talking about a major core of the team that has accumulated over 2,400 games of minor league action. No other team in this league can top that experience.
Every team needs to deal with injuries throughout the course of a season and unfortunately they are a major factor in the Rhinos production, or lack thereof, lately.
When you lose a guy like Hu Chin Lung, who hits at the top of your order and has led the league in hits and batting average over the past two seasons, it really messes up the dynamic of the offense. The Rhinos have really struggled without Hu and have had little success with Lin Wei Ting and his .330 on-base percentage and 57/18 K/BB ratio in the leadoff spot. Hu has missed 43 percent of the Rhinos’ games so far in 2016.Lin Che Hsuan might be the most important piece of the Rhinos lineup. His mix of power and speed allows him to hit anywhere in the order. In the 49 games that he has played this year he has put together a .317/.430/.528 slash line. He also leads the league in walks with 30, compared to just 26 strikeouts. He has missed 11 of the 60 games so far this year. Without Lin in the lineup, the Rhinos are just 2-9 and managing only 3.8 runs a game.
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Even though No.28 Kao Kuo Hui has played almost every game this year, he hasn't looked 100 percent over the last month or so. He has hit 17 home runs this year but only two in the month of June, so something is up. Also affecting the single-season home run record holder is not having Hu or Lin in the lineup. Without runners on base for Kao, no pitcher is going to give him much to hit and therefore he is seeing more difficult pitches. At the end of June of last year, Kao was crushing pitching to the tune of a .350 batting average, compared to .283 this year heading into the break. In his 54 at-bats in June, Kao has 13 hits and six for extra bases. He has a career slugging percentage of .603, but slugged just .426 this month. His career walk and strikeout rates are pretty similar during his recent slump, so the fact of the matter is he just isn't hitting, and when he does, it's not for power.
|The Oliver Photo|
With the ill-timed and negative effect of putting the team up for sale, the ownership might have also devalued their ball club in the process. This is quite counterproductive both in a fiscal and in a performance sense because, realistically, there are still two paths that can get this club into the Taiwan Series in October.
The first is to win the second half-season outright, which could prove difficult as the Brothers look like a force this year but anything could happen as all teams start the second half with even 0-0 records.
The more probable route would be if the Brothers won the second half but the Rhinos obtain a better overall record (all 120 games) than the Lions and the Monkeys. Heading into the break, the Rhinos are just two games behind the Lions for second and one game behind the Monkeys for third. If the Brothers were to win the second half (and they are the favorites to do so) then all the Rhinos have to do is beat two sub-.500 teams.
Ultimately, it's up to the players to pull this one off and perhaps the break between the first and second half-seasons will give the team some time to recuperate physically and mentally. They did manage to beat the Brothers 12-4 in the last game of the first half-season to snap their seven-game losing streak, taking off a mountain of pressure in the process.
It is obvious that the front office doesn't have any faith in the club’s ability to be competitive. However, I'm going to go out on a limb and throw my support behind the Rhinos in the second half. I honestly believe that this team can make some noise in the remaining 60 games because nothing brings a group together more than difficult times, and this team has faced some major adversity recently.
Maybe, like in Major League, the players need to rally together to spitefully stick it to the front office and ownership. Ultimately, the team has the talent to win, they just need a little motivation, and nothing is more motivating than being shown no respect.