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September 26, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, September 26

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
The Giants clinched the National League West title on Saturday, and with the Nationals and Reds both well ahead of San Francisco in the race for home-field advantage in the Division Series, Bruce Bochy’s team could forget about the standings and spend the last week of the season ironing out kinks before the playoffs. Tim Lincecum, who made the first of his two tune-up starts last night, apparently did not get the memo.

After battling mechanical issues, diminished fastball velocity, and poor command of his off-speed pitches for much of the season, Lincecum seemed to have turned a corner in his previous six outings, five of which paved the way for Giants wins. The 28-year-old was far from flawless—he walked a career-high seven batters in 6 1/3 innings on Sept. 7, for example—but he allowed no more than three runs in each of those six starts, likely building enough trust to warrant a Game Three post-season assignment. All of that was a step forward; Tuesday’s dud was two steps back.

Facing the Diamondbacks, a team that he routinely dominated during his Cy Young years but that he had not beaten since Sept. 29, 2010, Lincecum relapsed into his dreadful late-spring form. The first three Arizona hitters all reached base, and after Paul Goldschmidt lofted a sacrifice fly to deep left, Lincecum uncorked his league-leading 17th wild pitch, handing the visitors a 2-0 edge.

That wildness continued to plague Lincecum throughout his four-plus innings of work, as shown by the PITCHf/x plot from Brooks Baseball below:

The real scourge, though, was Goldschmidt, who—after barely missing a home run in the first inning—clanked a hanging slider off the left-field foul pole for a three-run job in the third. While extending the Diamondbacks’ lead to 5-0, Goldschmidt improved to a remarkable 8-for-14 with five home runs against Lincecum. The Freak is now responsible for serving up more than 18 percent of Goldschmidt’s 27 career big flies, and exactly one-third of the 15 he has hit off of right-handed pitchers. In other words, Lincecum is to Goldschmidt what Bartolo Colon has for many years been to Alex Rodriguez: a piñata.

Two innings later, after Buster Posey got the Giants on the board with a fourth-inning RBI double and Dan Runzler relieved Lincecum with two men on in the fifth, Goldschmidt picked up another sacrifice fly. Runzler then added a wild pitch of his own to the mess, enabling both inherited runners to score and saddling Lincecum with seven runs (all earned) to go with five hits, four walks, and a hit batsman.

Lincecum used 77 pitches to record 12 outs, and nearly half of them (38) were out of the strike zone. Worse, his fastball velocity, which had ticked up to the 91-93 range of late, topped out at 91.6 miles per hour and averaged less than 90. Of the 42 heaters (two-seam and four-seam) Lincecum threw, only one generated a swing-and-miss.

Manager Bruce Bochy said after the game, “It was obvious from the beginning, from the first hitter, that [Lincecum] was out of sorts.” Hours earlier, the skipper noted that he would soon “tweak” the Giants’ rotation to set up for the first round of the playoffs. Two years ago, during the Giants’ World Series championship run, Bochy left Barry Zito off the post-season roster, and Lincecum fanned 14 Braves in a complete-game shutout in Game One of the NLDS. This year, if Lincecum fails to regain his velocity and command in his regular-season finale, the shoe might be on the other foot.

Zito will not start the post-season opener, and he is unlikely to stymie either the Reds or Nationals. But in a twist that would have been unforeseeable in 2010, the $126-million lefty may now be more trustworthy than the $40.5-million righty.

What to Watch for on Wednesday
With the Cardinals picking up a game on the Brewers and Dodgers last night, the National League playoff races are virtually over. Thus, it’s an all-American League edition of What to Watch for:

  • CC Sabathia seemed back to his vintage self in his most recent outing, when he blanked Oakland for eight innings, allowed only three hits and two walks, and amassed his highest strikeout total since June 7 by fanning 11. Perhaps most importantly, Sabathia’s fastball, which had slipped down to the low-90s during his lull, touched 94-95 on Friday. The 32-year-old southpaw will try to build on that effort in today’s matinee against the Twins. He is one of the few pitchers who can claim ownage of Joe Mauer, whom he has limited to a 6-for-31 line with 11 strikeouts in their past encounters. Mauer’s 487 OPS in 41 career plate appearances versus Sabathia is his lowest against any active pitcher he has faced at least 30 times (1:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Orioles’ run differential slipped deeper into the red on Monday, when Buck Showalter’s squad was shut out for the first time since Aug. 3. That 1-0 defeat nearly two months ago dropped Baltimore to 7 ½ games behind first-place New York, but after getting bailed out by the Twins last night, the O’s now trail the Yankees by two games in the loss column with seven left to play. They will square off against Carlos Villanueva in tonight’s rubber match with the Blue Jays, hoping that Matt Wieters can get off an 0-for-15 schneid against the righty. Meanwhile, O’s starter Miguel Gonzalez will look to improve on his first career start against the Jays, when he coughed up five runs over 6 1/3 frames and took the loss on Sept. 5 (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • With 154 games in the books, the White Sox and Tigers are all even at 82-72, so the last eight games will decide the American League Central. Detroit will go first tonight, sending Rick Porcello to the mound with a chance to clinch a series win. To do that, though, the Tigers will need to snap a seven-game losing streak in games started by the 23-year-old sinkerballer, who has held an opponent to fewer than seven hits only once in his last nine tries (7:05 p.m. ET).

    An hour later, Chicago will settle its three-game set with Cleveland behind rookie swingman Hector Santiago, who is set to make his third start of the season and his first since Sept. 3. Santiago has coughed up only one extra-base hit (a home run by Andy Dirks) to the 114 left-handed batters who have stepped into the box against him this year, which bodes well for this matchup with the lefty-heavy Indians (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • The A’s scraped out a 3-2, extra-inning win in game two of their series in Arlington, but they did so without Josh Reddick, who is in the midst of an 0-for-28 flop and took most of Tuesday’s game off before lining out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. With two more games left on this road trip and their lead over the Angels still at two, the Athletics are not out of the woods yet, needing a strong finish to ensure that their Cinderella story won’t end abruptly on Oct. 3. Reddick should be back in the lineup for game three, which features a head-to-head matchup between rookies Jarrod Parker and Martin Perez. Parker was dominant in his lone start against Texas this season, tossing eight shutout innings in a 12-1 victory at the Coliseum, and Perez beat the A’s with 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball on June 30 (8:05 p.m. ET).
  • David Price made another strong case for the American League Cy Young award in Tuesday’s start at Fenway Park, joining Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina as the three pitchers since 1918 to toss a complete game against the Red Sox while striking out at least 13 and walking none. Tonight, Felix Hernandez—one of Price’s main rivals—can counter that effort, as he takes the hill at Angel Stadium, where the Halos prevailed, 5-4, in the opener. King Felix may have a hard time upstaging the show put on by Mike Scioscia’s pitching staff in last night’s contest, when the home team, led by Zack Greinke—who became the first pitcher in the Live Ball Era to whiff 13 or more batters in an outing of five or fewer innings—tied a major-league record by recording 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Hernandez will take on C.J. Wilson, whose August struggles have carried over into September, leaving the lefty with a 5.79 ERA in 14 trips to the mound since the All-Star break (10:05 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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