Sports is the Church Of What’s Happening Now, and right now, Tim Lincecum is not the king of the hill. This holiday weekend confirmed that Ubaldo Jimenez and Roy Halladay are the best pitchers in baseball. Lincecum, meanwhile, is working through some stuff.
Speaking of stuff, Mike Krukow says Jimenez has the best in the National League. I disagree. What he displayed in the first eight innings Monday at A T and T Park was about the best I’ve seen from any major league pitcher this year, and his numbers bear that out.
Jimenez has taken his considerable skills to the next level this season, and for most of the day Giants hitters were no match for his 96 to 98 mile an hour fastball with late movement, along with a plus slider. Outside of Pablo Sandoval’s three hits, there was little doubt Jimenez was in control until the 9th inning, when he was leaking oil but was bailed out on a Juan Uribe lineout to left to end the game.
How do you reduce an ERA of 0.88? Throw a shutout. Jimenez is now 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA.
Halladay, who has been on top for several years and might lay claim to the title of best pitcher on his generation, took it to a new level Saturday with his perfect game. Although Lincecum is the reigning two-time Cy Young winner, he’ll probably give up the hardware to Jimenez or Halladay this year. ( At least the Giants beat Halladay. )
Lincecum, meanwhile, has set expectations so high that when he is ordinary, it looks awful. I thought he would rise to the occasion of facing Jimenez Monday after a couple of rough outings, but he is not back yet. He is still fighting command of his fastball and the “power changeup” or split-finger pitch that has been the best strikeout weapon in baseball the last couple of seasons.
That is evident in his lack of control, even in the strike zone. Witness a 90 mile an hour fastball over the plate that Todd Helton clobbered to right center for an RBI double in the 5th. Still too many mistakes.
Most troubling for Lincecum was a 32 pitch second inning in which he failed to close out Clint Barmes, who was batting .211 coming into the game. With two outs on a two-strike count, Barmes hit a sharp ground ball up the middle to knock in two runs. The air went out of Lincecum’s balloon right there.
There were times when Lincecum looked like Lincecum, but not often enough. He did a nice job of working out of a jam in the 4th but couldn’t make it out of the 6th. His final line : 5 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs allowed, 3 earned, five walks and three strikeouts and 121 pitches. That’s five walks in each of four consecutive outings, although two were intentional Monday.
In addition, Lincecum is still working on holding runners on. That needs improvement as well. It wasn’t as much of an issue when he wasn’t allowing so many runners, but now it is.
I said it on the air last week: once or twice is an anomaly, three or four times is a trend. For Lincecum, the problems now constitute a trend. Should the Giants panic? Of course not. Should they be a bit concerned ? Definitely.
Suddenly, Lincecum Day is no longer Win Day. On a day when the atmosphere at A T and T Park should have been electric, it seemed the energy was sucked out of the place — both by the dominance of Jimenez and the disappointing performance of Lincecum. The Rockies have to feel that Jimenez day is Win Day now, and even if Lincecum had been 100 percent he might not have beaten Jimenez Monday.
In fairness, Lincecum may be off to the best start to a pitcher’s career since Gooden or Clemens. It is wrong to think he could keep up the same level of excellence forever. He has shown himself to be ultra-competitive, but now we’ll really be able to measure his greatness by how he responds to a little adversity. He’ll probably get another chance to face Jimenez this year.
Is Lincecum bothered by a blister, or is he dealing with mechanical issues? Or both ? Blisters can linger, while mechanical issues can be fixed. Lincecum will certainly get every opportunity to work things out.
Absolutely no one would be surprised if Lincecum returns to form, and absolutely no one should be shocked that he’s in a slump. Sports is cyclical, and when you’re on top you have a target on your back. Lincecum’s back was already carrying the weight of this team. It’s simply time for someone else in the rotation to carry the load for a while, and maybe Matt Cain is that guy. A one-hitter against the slugging Diamondbacks was a good start.
Sports talk and blogging are havens for the self-indulgent, so allow me to do a victory strut. The terrific arrival of Buster Posey over the weekend felt like sweet vindication, at least for the moment. Posey got a true education in major league pitching going 0-fer against Jimenez Monday, but I am glad the Giants called him up, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks. I hope it’s permanent.
I thought Posey could at least help the Giants’ offense, and his addition along with a healthy Freddy Sanchez certainly made a difference Saturday and Sunday. The Giants lineup is still no match for an elite pitcher such as Jimenez, but it is better. For now.
Posey’s stay might be short-lived, but as I wrote last week, he and Bengie Molina are not mutually exclusive. He has indeed played a decent first base while Huff goes to left field. As long as he hits, you find a place for his bat, and the Giants did.
Giants fans got a glimpse at the kind of hitter Posey might become: a middle-of-the-order guy who can knock in runs, if not with home runs. If Sandoval can come out of his funk, you could see Posey-Sandoval as the 3-4 hitters for years to come. That would answer a crying need for the offense. Sandoval’s confidence probably received a huge boost when he got three hits off Jimenez Monday.
I’m not concerned about taking away playing time from anyone, especially Aaron Rowand, as long as Posey is making an impact. Come July or August, he might be a fixture in the lineup. Maybe sooner. That should be fun to watch.
I just heard someone on TV say “Happy Memorial Day.” Bad knowledge.