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.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.