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San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum is the linchpin in the rotation

By Mark ONeill
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Having run down the starting lineup in Sunday’s post on the San Francisco Giants, I am taking a look at the rotation this morning in an effort to respond to readers who perceived a whiny tone to earlier pieces, questioning how serious Brian Sabean has been all winter, when it comes to refurbishing the Orange and Black’s nuts and bolts.

With both Los Angeles and San Diego providing Herculean effort to ratchet up the stakes, fans understandably want to know what Sabean has done for them recently, besides, ahem, win three world series rings. In examining the starting eight yesterday, I concluded that the mug was comfortably situated as far as half-empty versus half-full, so let’s see how the starting five look.

With Matt Cain on the verge of returning from minor surgery on both his ankle and his elbow, Giants fans are hopeful that the rotation will return to an earlier level of dominance, with Madison Bumgarner leading the way. There has been conjecture this offseason as to how much of an impact pitching 270 innings in 2014 will have on MadBum.

Any time a player steps outside the box there is going to be a certain amount of palaver as to how he will respond the following season. Bumgarner is not your average ballplayer who kicks back during the winter, keeps himself in reasonably good shape and then starts getting ready for the new year much the same as any other MLB player.

Madison Bumgarner leads by example. Photo by Denise Walos 7/4/14

No, Bumgarner comes from a part of the country where they get in shape for spring by bucking hay, digging fencepost holes and stretching wire. He is a strong individual, he’s 25 years old, and he has the mental toughness to put most of his peers at a disadvantage. He leads by example and nothing in his background suggests this is going to end any time soon.

With Matt Cain resuming his role as the Horse, Giants fans will get the opportunity to see last year as the fluke it was. Two victories for Cain the entire season, in a year the Giants won the whole enchilada? Is nothing sacred?

Matt Cain is coming back; what Giants fan is not stoked to know that?

Another in the Southern contingent, any questions about his health are natural, but misdirected, because he will be saddled up and ready to go by the time the Giants meet the Arizona Diamondbacks for the season opener. Cain is still only thirty years old.

Tim Lincecum is the linchpin in this season’s rotation. All five starters are held equally accountable, but whereas fans have a clear idea of what to expect from the others, Timmy remains an enigma. Which version of the Freak will make his appearance in February? A better question might be, how many versions of Lincecum are we apt to see?

In 2014 Lincecum went 12-9 with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. Are you surprised to note that he actually had a winning record? One has to go back to 2010 (16-10) to find his last one. That being said, I am as much a believer in Timmy as ever, simply because he is unlike any other who has ever played the game.

All major leaguers are different but not all have won two Cy Young Awards and three world series rings. That sets the Freak apart. He fell apart after his epic stretch in which he threw a no-hitter and had five consecutive starts with a sub-two ERA last season, and that kept him out of the postseason because Bochy didn’t know what to expect. Bochy never knows what to expect from Lincecum these days.

So why should the Giants place any faith whatsoever in Timmy? Because they have to? Because there is no James Shields or Jon Lester to bolster matters?  Because if he does return to form he will be dominant? Take your pick. One other detail which surfaced reportedly has Lincecum working with his father Chris again, something that has not occurred since…the winter before he had his last winning season. That bodes well for both San Francisco and its fans.

Moving on to Tim Hudson, we have an individual who like Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and others, is from the South, where they know how to get the job done. A year ago, coming off a horrific season-ending injury in 2013, Hudson came back like gangbusters, performing in that historic scorching start to the 2014 season as an All-Star, particularly when it came to his control.

He began the season with a career-long streak of thirty-and-two-thirds innings without walking a batter, as he battled to regain his pre-injury form. As the season wore on, Hudson showed signs of wear and tear with a hip issue which may have been connected with his ankle injury.

Tim Hudson leads MLB in wins with 214. Enough said.

Any time an athlete has to regularly compensate for a weakness in one part of his body, he runs the risk of impacting other components. With the announcement last week that Hudson had undergone surgery for bone spurs in that same injured right ankle, it would appear there is ample evidence to indicate Hudson was still being affected by that same malady, as he began to feel pain in his hip. By alleviating the discomfort from his ankle with surgery, Hudson may also be solving the other problem too.

Hudson and Posey chatting after warmups on March 11, 2014. Photo by Denise Walos.

Number five starter is the fiery Jake Peavy, who was acquired last July 26th from the Boston Red Sox, another Southerner and a guy who goes way back with Bruce Bochy in San Diego. He came on like a savior, performing miracles for a bruised and battered Giants team that was to take heart and amp things up in the playoffs, only nine weeks after Peavy joined the team.

How much credit belongs to Peavy is a question that never has to be answered, but it would be nice to pose the same question again, at the end of this season. Detractors point to Peavy’s poor showing in the postseason (1-2, 6.19 ERA) as a reason for upgrading, but that’s pretty shortsighted when you consider how important he was in the regular season.

Without question, Giants starters are a formidable group and if they do not measure up to the Los Angeles Dodgers on paper, no one cares. When Clayton Kershaw opposes Madison Bumgarner, paper does not factor in. Kershaw will dominate and MadBum will overpower, but matters may very possibly be determined by a stellar play by Brandon Crawford, to start an inning-ending double play and prevent the Bums from scoring, or by a sacrifice fly by Joe Panik to score the game’s only run-or both. That’s baseball.

Individual players perform pivotal roles in every game and any one of the team members who is feeling the chemistry and not trying to do it all himself, can make the difference in a game. Last season the Dodgers very mechanically went about the business of winning the National League West and then, just as methodically, lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

These are the same Cardinals that the Giants have beaten twice in the last three years for the National League Pennant. Though the Dodgers’ payroll has exceeded that of the Giants in recent years, the Orange and Black have found a way to get it done, defying that old “on paper” principle, in lieu of getting it done on grass.

The last time I checked, the Giants are still playing on grass, so just pop that “paper” business in the old shredder and let’s play ball.

Aug 7, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Jake Peavy (43) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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