Tim Lincecum

Billy Hamilton causes Tim Lincecum to lose focus, game


Only three Giants pitchers have an ERA over 4.00. One of them is not like the others.

Yusmeiro Petit’s ERA is 4.60, but he’s already saved the Giants’ bacon multiple times. David Huff has the worst ERA on the team at 6.30, but there’s a reason why the Yankees sold him to the Giants for a relative pittance – especially compared to what they’re paying Tim Lincecum.

[RELATED: Instant Replay: Lincecum roughed up by Reds, Giants lose 8-3]

Lincecum’s ERA is 5.01 after allowing eight earned runs over 4.1 innings in Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the Reds. That’s not exactly what the Giants were hoping for when they gave him $35 million over two seasons.

“Just a tough day for Timmy. He made some mistakes early. He looked like he got in a pretty good zone there. In the fifth he got the ball up again,” Bruce Bochy told reporters.

“I thought Timmy was going to regroup and get us somewhat deeper in the game.”

That’s the Lincecum the Giants paid for, an unpredictable starter whose best trait at this stage of his career is probably durability.

His stuff isn’t what it once was, but that’s not his biggest problem. Command isn’t even the greatest concern, even though he’s back to walking batters at a high rate.

Lincecum can handle the pressure of postseason play. He can still strike hitters out. Yet he still hasn’t developed any sort of coping mechanism to keep regular season innings from spiraling out of control when something gets under his skin.

Tuesday’s game was an excellent example. It’s not a coincidence that he split those eight runs equally among the first and fifth innings, the innings Billy Hamilton led off and reached base.

“Hamilton’s a big part of their offense, and him getting on two out of three times against me kind of flustered me on timing to the plate. I let it get to me in those two big innings,” Lincecum said.

A pitcher with Lincecum’s credentials should be able to shake off obstacles. Allowing a hit to the fastest man in baseball or getting too sweaty shouldn’t mean he automatically loses a feel for his mechanics or forgets to hold base runners.

He’ll probably never again be the Cy Young dynamo that made each fifth day a holiday in San Francisco, but the Giants believe he’s better than what he’s shown.

“Sure, he’s walked some guys, but if you look at his recent work it’s been pretty good. Look at what our record is with him pitching,” Bochy said.

“This is a guy that set the bar extremely high. He’s a little different pitcher now, but he’s shown what he can do. I hope after today he gets back on that run that he had in more recent starts before tonight.”

The Giants’ record with Lincecum is 8-4 after Tuesday’s loss, and his ERA was under 3.00 in May. So they feel like there’s time to let him figure things out, especially considering Tim Hudson’s dominance, the reemergence of Ryan Vogelsong, and the team’s win-loss record.

Besides the lack of focus, the maddening thing for everyone involved is that Lincecum has no idea who he is.

He came out of Spring Training with plans to pitch to contact. Then he gave up 36 hits and six home runs in April while only walking six in 25.2 innings. He averaged just over five innings per start that month with an ERA of 5.96.

In May he walked 22 in 34.2 innings, but allowed far fewer runs, hits and home runs.

Things seemed to be looking up. Then Hamilton gets in his head and he finds it hard to do anything besides dwell on the negative.

That’s never a good idea in a sport where failure is a constant, even for the best players.

“It’s kind of hard not to think about the bad stuff that goes on and stuff that you’ve let happen and what you need to do to change that,” said Lincecum.

“I think a lot of people think there’s a big space between being good and not being good. In this game it’s a small factor of space to make up. I’ve just got to look for that.”

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played a four hour and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.