Billy Hamilton causes Tim Lincecum to lose focus, game

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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.”

Braves clinch NL East title

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So much for a last-minute, nail-biting finish to this division race. The Braves cemented their division title with a dominant 5-3 finish over the Phillies on Saturday, laying claim to the NL East title for the first time since 2013.

The Braves asserted themselves right off the bat after amassing a four-run lead from Johan Camargo and Freddie Freeman, both of whom cleared the bases with two-run singles in the first two innings. Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, found another way to make his presence known after swiping his 15th stolen base of the year and joining Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda, and Mike Trout as one of the youngest players to collect at least 25 home runs and 15 stolen bags in major league history.

Not to be outdone, Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz delivered one of the strongest starts of his season to date. The righty set down six innings of no-hit ball against the Phillies, and, with just 62 pitches under his belt, looked ready to go the distance before he lost his bid on Odubel Herrera‘s leadoff single in the seventh.

Unfortunately for the Braves, the Phillies not only upended Foltynewicz’s no-hit attempt, but the shutout as well. In the eighth inning, Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins wrestled two RBI singles from Atlanta’s bullpen and brought Philadelphia within one run of tying the game. Hoskins was the last Phillies batter to reach base, however, as Jonny Venters and Arodys Vizcaino tossed a combined 1 2/3 scoreless innings (backed by a final RBI hit from Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the eighth) to cap the Braves’ win — and the NL East title.

With the loss, the Phillies sit seven games back of a wild card spot in the National League. They’ll need to outpace the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Cardinals in order to make 2018 their first postseason-qualifying year since 2011.