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Monday, July 15, 2013

Timmy!

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim “The Freak” Lincecum (5-9, 4.26 ERA, 125 Ks) won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009. Before last season, he never finished a season with an ERA greater than 4.00. His career ERA as of this morning is 3.40. Prior to 2012, he appeared to be on track to a potential Hall of Fame career and, minimally, was expected to be a dominant starter for the next several years.  Last year, the wheels appeared to come off. On Saturday night, he pitched his first career no-hitter.

Hotties are still rocking the Lincecum jerseys. 3

WHAT HAPPENED?

In 2012, Lincecum had, far and away, the worst season of his Major League career, en route to a World Series championship. He finished with a bullpen-demotion-worthy 5.18 ERA and a 10-15 record. He was taken deep by opposing batters for 23 home runs last year. For the first time since his rookie year of 2007, he had neither a complete game nor a shutout all season. Lincecum, once the ace of the Giants’ rotation, only started one game in the 2012 postseason, thought he pitched very effectively in his almost 18 innings of October baseball last year.

Speculation about what was wrong with Lincecum went rampant. Some speculated that perhaps he had shoulder problems or some physical ailment. Some speculated that opposing batters finally figured him (and his unorthodox delivery) out. Some opined that Lincecum simply got off to a slow start and he was pressing. I think it was some combination of “all of the above”. 

Lincecum came back to life in the 2012 playoffs. 2
DOES HE STILL HAVE “IT”?

The 2013 season didn’t appear to treat Lincecum much better than last year. Lincecum was touched up several times early in the season with his ERA over 5.00 at the end of May. Since then, it appeared The Freak began to get his groove back.

Five of his next eight starts since the start of June were quality starts. Unfortunately, the Giants only scored 12 runs in those eight games started by Lincecum, not helping his win-loss record much. However, he gave up far fewer home runs, and gradually increased his frequency of strikeouts. 

Lincecum’s road to recovery peaked on Saturday with a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. Not only has he improved, but he notched an achievement that all MLB pitchers covet and he had yet to attain during his Cy Young winning years. While he issued four walks, Lincecum gunned down 13 Padres batters with strikeouts. He threw 148 total pitches.

TURNING A CORNER

Saturday’s no-hitter is a critical confidence builder for The Freak. At age 29, he should be entering the prime of his career, not the downside. The light-hitting Giants needed the performance from Lincecum in the worst way. They’ve won two of the past three World Series based on pitching. The pitching has just not been there this season, particularly against power hitting, in the way it has in recent years. They are a small ball offensive team. It wasn’t working. The Giants free-fell from second place for much of April and May all the way into fourth place heading into the All-Star break. 

If Lincecum can pitch like “The Freak” we got to know in the late 2000s (like he did on Saturday) with more regularity, it will lighten the load off of everyone else on the team – the bullpen…the batting order…Manager Bruce Bochy…everyone. It can plug a hole, which has been gaping for quite a while, in the Giants’ starting rotation. It could make for a very heated second half race in the National League West.

Major League Baseball is best when its stars are shining. Lincecum took a big step in returning to glory over the weekend. Let’s see if he continues to put one foot in front of the other.       

Lincecum carrying the Giants: a familiar sight we haven't seen in a while. 1

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1) Image from www.detroitnews.com
2) Image from www.sfgate.com
3) Image from http://shop.mlb.com

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