The San Francisco Giants played their way to a second World Series title in the last three seasons on the back of excellent pitching. Surprisingly, it was largely accomplished in spite of the efforts of Tim Lincecum, who was relegated to the bullpen during the Giants’ playoff run following the worst season of his career. So what does 2013 have in store for Lincecum and the Giants?
It’s shocking to think of Lincecum, a two-time National League Cy Young award winner, as a weakness of the Giants’ pitching staff, but that was the truth of it. The 28-year old righty set career-worst marks for ERA (5.18), WHIP (1.47), WAR (-2.0), hits allowed (183), home runs allowed (23), earned runs allowed (107) and walks (90) while pitching under 200 innings and striking out fewer than 200 batters for the first time since his rookie season in 2007.
Despite all of that, the Giants still boasted one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, finishing in the top ten in MLB in team ERA, WHIP and batting average against. Lincecum’s struggles weren’t quite so obvious thanks to the stellar performances of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and the reincarnation of something resembling Barry Zito. Pitching led the Giants to a 94-win season and the NL West crown, but when it came to crunch time in the playoffs, the Giants just couldn’t rely on Lincecum.
To his credit, Lincecum responded to the demotion to the pen, coming in whenever he was called on and delivering vintage Lincecum performances, just in smaller doses. In five relief appearances over 11 innings, Lincecum allowed just one run on three hits, striking out 17 and walking two. He swallowed his pride and did exactly what the team needed from him, helping to secure another World Series title.
However, Lincecum isn’t going to be satisfied with playing out of the bullpen this season. The former ace cut off his signature locks and added 10 pounds to his lean frame over the winter through a workout regimen specifically created to restore his dynamism. In the past, he’s eased into spring and used the month of March to get his work in, but he’s come in this year with a new-found focus, looking to get results quickly and regain the form that made him one of the best pitchers in the majors up until last year.
The Giants will reward Lincecum’s willingness to take a back-seat last postseason and his determination over the winter by putting him back into the starting rotation. In a contract year, can Tim Lincecum recapture the fire that won him back-to-back Cy Young awards or has “The Freak” lost his stuff for good?