Don’t Panic … Yet

August 24

               Fans by definition are emotional.  That’s part of the fun and agony of rooting for a team.  I see it year-in, year-out covering the Bay Area teams.

               I’m amazed at how Giants fans react to each game.  A loss, and they collapse into a state of torpor.  A win and it’s party-time, although fans still find something to bitch about, even in victory.

               You would think it was an NFL season, were every game really DOES carry tremendous weight. 

               Sunday’s 4-2 Giants loss to Colorado apparently caused a rash of defenstrations across the Bay Area.  It hurt, no doubt, putting the Giants three games out of the wild card.  A loss tonight and it’s four games and I get the feeling some fans will pack up the lunch cart.

              Losing tonight would be bad, but it’s August 24th, and these two teams have six more games — in San Francisco.  Maybe Freddy Sanchez will be able to play some of those games.  If the Giants can take, say 4 of 6 of those games then you have a race to the wire.

             I won’t lie to you — my $100 bet with Gary Radnich still stands — my money is on the Rockies.  I’m just saying it ain’t over ’til it’s over.  Where have I heard that before?

             Another source of panic:  Tim Lincecum.  Apparently he is supposed to win every game.  He allowed three runs in seven innings Sunday, excellent even in the present-day Coors Field.  He served up a two-run bomb in the 7th and the Giants schizoid offense couldn’t muster four runs, so he took the loss.

             Adding to the panic, the fact that his velocity appeared to be down.  Some of that is due to the questionable radar gun at Coors, and the Giants are wondering if some gamesmanship was involved there.  Actually, if I wanted to play games I would have added a few miles an hour to his fastball, but that’s another argument for another time.

             That being said, it doesn’t appear to be the same Lincecum we saw early this season.  He has set an incredibly high standard, and we are disappointed whenever he falls a little short.  He has “fallen short” in two straight starts, so red flags start popping up.

            The pitch count issue is sure to rear its ugly head again.  Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News today pointed to Lincecum’s shaky performances in his starts following 120-pitch outings this season, something to monitor in his next start since he threw 121 Sunday.  Lincecum is also among the Major League leaders in pitches thrown the last two seasons.

            Worry-warts point to Lincecum’s body type.  They say most big-time pitchers who last a long time look like blacksmiths, not skater dudes.  Of course, big guys get hurt, too, and Lincecum is superbly conditioned.

           Others are in the Bobby McFerrin camp: Don’t Worry, be Happy. They point to pitchers with relatively slight builds such as Pedro Martinez and Roy Oswalt as examples of little engines that could.  I would certainly take Pedro’s ten-year run of greatness and run with it — his late 30’s be damned.

           In the end, you might not be able to compare Lincecum to anyone.  He has a unique, repeatable delivery, an unusual routine, and the makeup of a bulldog.  I don’t think you can use any other pitcher’s career as a blueprint.

           All I have said since last summer is this : you’d better be careful.  The history for pitchers under 25 who assume a heavy workload is not great.  Many have season-ending injuries and manage to bounce back eventually, others do not. 

            I am not a strict pitch-count guy and, believe me, if the Giants need Lincecum to go 140 pitches on October 4th to get into the playoffs, I ride that horse.  A few starts of 120 or 130 pitches won’t make a difference, and he’s had four this year.  However, there can be a cumulative effect over the space of  two or three years.  As the Giants lay out their blueprint for becoming a contender in the next few years, they should pay attention to that.

           I’m just saying — you had better be careful.  For now, please don’t defenestrate  ( jump out a window ).

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