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Let’s start here: The baseball world is a better place when Tim Lincecum is pitching in it.
If he can be good again, not even necessarily 265-strikeout good, or 2.48-ERA good, or 18-win good, but simply capable and competitive again, all the more better.
And then if he can be a San Francisco Giant again? Well now we’re really talkin’.
See, because Tim Lincecum is what happens when you wrap 170 pounds in a city that loves its Timmy, in a perfect ballpark by the sea, under a colony of impatient seagulls, on a summer night that’s way colder than it ought to be. In there somewhere, Lincecum, the undersized Giant, arising from his windswept mechanics like a guy falling backward off his barstool before saving himself and – why not – everyone else too.
He’s scheduled to pitch Friday in Arizona for his next job. The Giants will be there. About 20 other clubs have expressed some degree of interest, many of which figure Lincecum, some way or another, will return to the Giants. It’s too perfect, from their shared history to what’s happening on the back end of the Giants’ rotation to just the way things oughta be.
None of which is to say this will happen. Even if it should.
Lincecum, who had hip surgery in September, has been preparing to be a starter. That is, throwing 90- to 100-pitch simulated games every fifth day under the direction of his father/mechanics guru, Chris, with bullpen sessions in between. His fastball velocity is said to be up over 90 mph again. If so, that would suggest the surgery was successful and Lincecum is generating power through his hips again. He came into the big leagues throwing 94 mph and frequently harder than that, and by last summer was puttering along at 87.
That was part of the problem, but not all of the reason that for the past four seasons Lincecum, winner of two Cy Young Awards and thrower of two no-hitters and generally a joy to watch, returned a 4.68 ERA and 1.4 WHIP over 106 starts. He’d say he was learning to pitch with less of a fastball and then pitch like he was chasing 96, and the two together were unsustainable.
The Giants know this. They also publicly say they are not in the market for another starter, even if it’s a guy they know and love and root for. Matt Cain and Jake Peavy had pretty lousy Aprils. The Giants maintain it’s a relief pitcher they want, a stance that is either brilliantly loyal or ridiculously shortsighted, we’re not sure which. Probably, neither do they. It’s impossible to know without knowing who Tim Lincecum is anymore, something that can’t be settled over a few pitches on a Friday afternoon in Arizona.
What is knowable is it’s not every May when a 31-year-old former ace shows up eager to pitch, presumably ready to pitch, and carrying part of your organization’s history with him. So sign him, Giants. Give him the ball. Let Timmy smoke.
A SERIES BEHIND:
Just this once, let’s make it two series behind, because the Philadelphia Phillies have that kind of love coming. Be honest, having the Phillies win this many games is like watching one of those skater dudes scrape down a schoolyard handrail for 30 feet. You’re thrilled at the skill. You’re amazed at the courage. And you’re pretty sure it’s going to end in violence, with a leg on each side of that handrail.
Only he’s not thinking of that. At least not as much as you are.
I picked the Phillies to win 63 games. They could reach that, I think, next week, at their current rate, based on the fact they swept the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians last week and allowed all of 10 runs in those two series.
By Sunday night, the Phillies would have been leading two divisions and tied for the lead in another. Unfortunately for them, none of those three included the NL East. And also, it was May 1.
This might not hold up for long if the Phillies are thinking of scoring 20 runs a week, which is how many runs they scored last week. Still, at that point, they’d outscored the New York Yankees, which would’ve meant something once.
The secret? It’s not a secret. It’s starting pitching (and some bullpen too), and this is where we introduce you to Vincent Velasquez, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff — Eickhoff being the oldest at 25 — and reintroduce you to Jeremy Hellickson. He’s the former Rookie of the Year who’s been traded twice since then and had some ERA issues in the three years before the Phillies got him from Arizona for a prospect (and, alas, on Monday night got hammered by the Cardinals).
So, before we run out of handrail and straddle that minus-23 run differential, here’s to manager Pete Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure and GM Matt Klentak and a bunch of young guys who don’t seem to mind dragging Ryan Howard around wherever they go.
A SERIES AHEAD:
Well, what do we have here? Starting Thursday night at Wrigley Field, Washington Nationals vs. Chicago Cubs, four games to learn if Dusty Baker is a better manager at 66 than he was at 56. This should decide it.
On the last team Baker ran in Chicago, the one that lost 96 games and sent him off to, eventually, Cincinnati, his starting pitchers included Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, Greg Maddux and … Rich Hill. Prior never pitched in the big leagues again. Wood never made another major league start and neither did Marmol. Maddux is in the Hall of Fame. And Hill is starting over again in Oakland. A lot can happen in a decade. Ask Dusty.
Anyway, a whole new Cubs and a whole new Dusty, together again for a few days in May for what we can assume to be an NLCS preview, unless the Pirates or Mets or Phillies screw that up. Max Scherzer goes for the Nationals on Friday night, Jake Arrieta for the Cubs on Sunday afternoon, and here come four more games of Daniel Murphy, who in four October games hit .529 with four home runs and extended the black cat voodoo another year.
SAW IT COMING:
The Mets have played 25 games, 22 of them against right-handed starters. That’s been good to them, as only the Cardinals and Rockies have hit right-handers harder in the National League. And it’s been very good to Michael Conforto, whose 1.182 OPS is best (minimum 50 at-bats) in the NL against righties.
So Terry Collins has been free to run his 23-year-old left-handed hitter out there at will, even against the occasional lefty (Brandon Finnegan and Madison Bumgarner in the past week). But mostly teams have been lining up righties and Conforto has been knocking them down, as have Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson.
Over five coming days, Collins, Conforto and the Mets are scheduled to see three left-handed starters — as many as they had in a month — and that means decisions. Does he ride Conforto through Drew Pomeranz on Friday, Scott Kazmir on Monday and Alex Wood on Tuesday (the Mets miss Clayton Kershaw in L.A.)?
Probably. Of the three, only Kazmir has handled left-handed hitters better than right and, in fact, Wood has been practically defenseless against lefties. So while Conforto is just three for 17 against lefties in 2016 after batting .214 against them as a rookie, it’s as good a time as any for him to fend off any platoon notions.
DIDN'T SEE IT COMING:
Earned-run average isn’t everything, but, yikes, Adam Wainwright (6.68), Clay Buchholz (6.51), Justin Verlander (6.49), Michael Pineda (6.33), David Price (6.14), Mike Leake (5.83), Zack Greinke (5.50), and Dallas Keuchel (5.11).