The worst season of Tim Lincecum‘s life could become one of the best before we’re all through in 2012. Most of this season has been pretty embarrassing for Lincecum, with his numbers stunningly bad for a guy who has been one of the top pitchers in the game the last few years. But there are signs that Lincecum has halted his freefall and is returning to the Lincecum who has been the darling of the San Francisco Bay area since he reached the majors. The end product of that could be a World Series title for the Giants.
We may be looking at a just-in-time revival here, with Lincecum returning to top-notch effectiveness just as the playoffs begin. From shaky he may shift back into the count-on-me member of the rotation who is rock solid. Lincecum’s record of the moment is 10-14 with a 4.91 earned run average. Those are very un-Tim like numbers, but recently Lincecum has evolved from throwing slop up to the plate to regaining sharpness.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound right-hander who has the build of a college point guard rather than the big dudes who seem to inhabit the mound more and more, is only 28 and should be in his prime. That’s after bursting upon the scene with an 18-5 record and a National League-leading 265 strikeouts in 2008. That performance won the shaggy-haired Lincecum known as “The Freak” for his awkward motion and surprisingly fast fastball the first of two straight Cy Young awards.
Lincecum was an important figure when the Giants won their first World Series since moving from New York to San Francisco in 2010 and despite his lack of size has three NL strikeout titles on his resume. There were some cracks showing in the foundation in 2011 when Lincecum finished 13-14, but it wasn’t all his fault since he had a 2.74 ERA. Lots of things fell apart in San Francisco last year after catcher Buster Posey got hurt.
Most of this season the National League West Division was muddled. No team had a clear-cut lead. The Giants and the good, old rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the California Hatfields and McCoys of baseball, percolated to the top of the standings. Then the Dodgers made a blockbuster trade with the Red Sox acquiring another starting pitcher (Josh Beckett) and a new first baseman (Adrian Gonzalez) that in LA was heralded as the playoff-clinching, division-winning swap.
Since the Giants really had not shown consistency, it was easy to think that the Dodgers’ move would pay off that way. Funny thing happened, though. The trade has not been as galvinizing as the Dodgers hoped and they are floundering, clawing to claim the NL’s second wild-card playoff spot. At the same time everything began clicking for the Giants. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have a nine-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. That race is over. The Giants are in the playoffs.
Just the other day against the Colorado Rockies, Lincecum pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings with six strikeouts for his 10th win. Suddenly, he looked like the Tim Lincecum of recent vintage, not the Lincecum struggling with wildness whose stuff was being hit all of the lot. With everything else already working for the Giants, a fully functional, at-his-best Lincecum can change the dynamic of the post-season.
Over the last few weeks the Giants have gone from a team that seemed as if it would struggle to get into the playoffs into one that must be considered a serious threat to capture the National League pennant and another Series.