In Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Tim Lincecum will make his first start of the playoffs.
Think about what that sentence would have read like six months ago. You would have had all sorts of thoughts.
1. The Giants are in the NLCS? Cool
2. Wait, first start of the playoffs? Oh, man, Lincecum was hurt? Oh man oh man oh man
3. At least he came back in the playoffs
4. He's going to come out of the dugout and rip off a mask, isn't he? Like, total wrestling-style. And the other team is going to say, "Tim Lincecum??? But we were told he wasn't pitching this series!!!"
6. This is going to be awesome.
7. TIMMY! TIIIIMMM-MMMAHHH! WHOOOOO!
8. Wait, the Cardinals? Man, that's annoying
Instead, it's a bizarre story. Lincecum is a pitcher who lost just about everything that made him good, especially his command. He finished sixth in the Cy Young voting last season, you know. He went from that to getting Fredo-skipped for Barry Zito in the NLDS in just a few months, and it wasn't even an indefensible decision. That's how spooky his year was.
And now the Giants are trusting in him for a not-must-win-kind-of-must-win game after using him as some old-school, '60s relief ace for the first part of the playoffs. Gulp.
I'll admit, though, the most surprising part of the postseason so far has been how well Lincecum took to the role. He's thrown 8⅓ innings, allowing just a run, which is great. But the real news is in the fine print:
104 pitches. 71 strikes.
He had only one start this season with a better ratio, and that was the Tony Gwynn, Jr. game, in which Lincecum looked great before allowing an infield hit and a 1-2 triple. What's even weirder is that Lincecum is doing all that from the stretch, when earlier in the season his whole problem had to do with his pitching with runners on base.
So I did what any overly optimistic, unqualified analyst did. I watched Lincecum's outings again. I watched them in detail, like I was trying to find some small, horribly irrelevant detail to support my Greater Polar Bear Theory on a still-active Lost blog. I wanted to find something that clicked, something that made sense.
I looked at the sliders in the dirt that hitters swung at, and I looked at the ones the hitters spit on. I looked at the swing-through fastballs, and I compared them to the hard-hit fastballs. I made GIFs of a good change in the strike zone. I made GIFs of a bad change in the strike zone. I sang the songs that remind me of the good outings. I sang the songs that remind me of the best outings.
I slowed down those change-ups and pretended like I knew what I was looking for:
And in the end, my answer is the same damned answer that it's been for this entire year: dunno. I don't know why Tim Lincecum was bad, and I don't know why he was suddenly good in three playoff relief appearances. I'm here to make jokes, people. All I can do is hope that whatever it was -- mechanics, mental gumption, improved luck -- it sticks. That's kind of freaky for a game that the Giants really, really need to win.
But if the Giants are going to win the pennant, if they're going to have a chance to win the whole damned thing again, I like that it's going to be with Lincecum's help. It kind of has to be. It's been a bizarre season on a lot of fronts, but especially when it comes to the converging lines on the graph detailing the competence of hitters and pitchers. The biggest part of the decline in pitching competence has been the bizarre season of Tim Lincecum.
Yet, as of Thursday, he's the player who has the most to do with the Giants winning the pennant again.
Yeah, that's about right. The road to the pennant has to travel through Lincecum. And even though the idea makes me nervous, imagine how awesome it will be if this idea is just crazy enough to work. Not just for the Giants. But for the Assorted Lincecum Fans and Well-Wishers Union, Local 415. If there is good to be found in October, it'll make the other five months so, so worth it.