Tim Lincecum’s inferior 2012 season veered off on once again on Wednesday against the Washington Nationals. The recollections of the “old” Lincecum slowly started to creep their way back into the minds of all baseball fans. Not just because he quietly posted a 2.72 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, but also because his well-known swagger was seemingly back. Yet, the same swagger that carried him through an atrocious August in 2010 and carried him throughout a 2011 season that saw him receive no run support from a lackluster Giants’ offense, is long gone. His most recent outing in which he gave up four runs in four innings just reminded the baseball world why Lincecum’s struggles could potentially taint the Giants’ playoffs hopes. And with Melky Cabrera out for the remainder of the season, the amount of pressure on Lincecum to rejuvenate himself just one more time, sits at an all-time high.
Fortunately, the Giants remaining schedule is on Lincecum’s side, for the most part. The wavering 1-8 record and 6.93 ERA that he owns against teams with a winning record, won’t fare well in the playoffs (should the Giants make it), but in these final six or so weeks of the season, the Giants and Lincecum can look forward to a relatively favorable schedule.
If everything goes accordingly, Lincecum will get a surplus of starts against the Padres and Rockies. Sprinkle in a start against the Astros, and you might have something cooking. Then again, nothing is a guarantee with Lincecum at this point.
The margin for error is second to none when he makes his final trip around the various N.L West stadiums. No, not just because the meaning of the games increases as the 162 game marathon rapidly boils down to the final few weeks, but also because there won’t be ample room for location mistakes. Chase Field and Coors Field are detrimental to pitchers because of the vastly high attitude than most ballparks. Quite simply, they are unforgiving. Fly balls result in home runs, breaking balls don’t break as sharply, and you know, just weird stuff tends to happen in those parks. For someone like Lincecum, who has to take every break he can get this year, those aforementioned parks aren’t going to be friendly sights.
To be fair, the Giants’ entire pitching staff gets away with location mistakes from time to time because of the spacious AT&T Park. Lincecum gets a fair share of freebies as well. Yet, his mistakes have been just a bit different. In a sense, they take center stage. People might forget about a Sergio Romo hanging slider, but no one will forget about the fastball that Lincecum threw to Danny Espinosa that resulted in a home run. That lone pitch will be analyzed, criticized, and scouted until he makes another start. To put things into perspective, the two-time Cy Young award winner is under the microscope every time he throws a pitch.
However, the minor location mistakes that he salvaged in his spacious home park, won’t fare well in Colorado and Arizona in the coming weeks. If anything, they will be amplified like never before. Sure, he was about average against the Rockies a couple of weeks back, but he struggled to accumulate outs. His performance was by no means dominant, but And for Lincecum, who owns a 7.50 road ERA compared to a 3.92 home ERA, a mid September collapse is foreseeable.
Lincecum, however, still has his flaring competitiveness when he’s on the mound. That’s one thing that hasn’t been lost of the mix of things during this roller coaster ride of a season.
While the Lincecum of old may never return, the Lincecum that competes could string together a late season push that lifts the Giants into the playoffs.