The Week Ahead: Timmy to the rescue?

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lincecum_090913.jpgTim Lincecum will take the mound for the San Francisco Giants on Monday after missing his last start with “spasms and inflammation” in his back. His return couldn’t come any sooner.

This is a huge week for San Francisco, a surprise contender this season that is currently on the verge of dropping to the fringe of the playoff race.

The Giants enter the week at 77-66, 7 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, and 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies in the NL wild-card chase.

With three games at home against Colorado followed by three more in Los Angeles against the Dodgers this week, the time — Giants fans — is now.

Lincecum will go against Colorado’s Jason Hammel on Monday. Then, if everything goes well, he would likely start again on Sunday against the Dodgers’ Jon Garland.

While these will be huge starts for Lincecum, the Giants will also need help from other sources if they are to make up ground. And Lincecum knows it, saying before Sunday’s game that recently acquired Brad Penny was the guy to do it. (He did, indeed, do it, beating the Dodgers on Sunday).

“He’s that guy. He wants to rile people up in the dugout, he’s big on rah-rah and spirit. He wants to get everybody awake. We’ve been pretty lax the last couple of days. I think it’s time for something to kick us in the butt and say, ‘Hey, do you realize it’s frickin’ September?’ We have to turn something on. This is where it counts.”

Well said.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rockies at Giants, Sept. 14-16:
As stated above, Tim Lincecum returns to the mound in a key game for the Giants. Actually the whole series is key as Colorado tries to maintain its hold on the NL wild-card spot.

Marlins at Cardinals, Sept. 14-16: Florida enters the week 5 1/2 games back in the NL wild-card race, which makes this a poor time to catch the mighty Cardinals in St. Louis. Suffer a sweep, and that just about does it.

Angels at Red Sox, Sept. 15-17: The Red Sox have had the Angels’ number in the playoffs in recent years, so Los Angeles would be smart to do what it can to keep Boston out of the postseason altogether. Also, some wins would be good with the Rangers lurking 5 ½ games back in the AL West.

Angels at Rangers, Sept. 18-20: Speaking of the Rangers, this series is key for them. The division title might not be realistic, but with the wild card in play, there is plenty to shoot for.

Giants at Dodgers, Sept. 18-20: It’s already a rivalry. Throw playoff implications into the mix, and you’ve got a doozy of a series to watch.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Angels at Red Sox (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:15 p.m.: Rockies at Giants (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Twins (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Cubs at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: Angels at Rangers (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Cubs at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Johnny Cueto expected to opt-out of his deal after the season

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Johnny Cueto signed a six-year $130 million deal with the Giants prior to the 2016 season. In his first season he went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings, helping lead the Giants to the playoffs. This season has been rocky for Cueto — he’s got a a 4.42 ERA in 15 starts and has battled blisters — but they’ve been far rockier for the Giants overall, as they sit in last place in the NL West and have the second worst record in baseball.

Many suspect that the Giants will either rebuild or, at the very least, restructure some in response to this nightmare year. If so, they’re likely going to be doing it with Cueto, who Jon Heyman reports is going to opt-out of his deal:

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is planning to opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but he would listen to any extension offer . . . Cueto has $84 million to go over four years. It would probably take an injury or major slump for Cueto not to opt out. But it makes sense that he will.

Heyman says the Giants are not inclined to give him an extension, so expect to see Cueto on the free agent market three days after the World Series ends, which is the deadline for him to exercise his opt-out rights.

The Dodgers are concerned about Julio Urias’ shoulder

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Things are going great for the Dodgers lately. They’ve won seven consecutive games and 13 of their last 14. They lead the National League in wins and are in first place in, arguably, the best division in baseball.

But there are a lot of moving parts on a baseball team, and even when some things are going great, other things can go not-so-great. Like this:

Urias has been diagnosed with shoulder inflammation and shut down indefinitely. An MRI last week showed no structural damage, but his shoulder is still bothering him. He has not pitched in the bigs since late May, when he allowed seven runs in less than three innings against the Miami Marlins. He was sent down after that and went 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA, six walks and 17 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched in three starts with Oklahoma City before being shelved.