Tim Lincecum has owned the spotlight in the MLB stratosphere ever since his big league debut in 2007. But the two-time Cy Young award winner and World Series champion has embarked on the most strenuous journey of his career in 2012, struggling to sustain both command and velocity on his way to a league-worst 5.18 ERA and career-high 15 losses.
However, Lincecum has reverted back to his old self while serving out of the bullpen in the playoffs, and the statistics prove it. "The Freak" has surrendered just one run and three hits in 8.1 innings pitched while striking out nine and walking only one in three relief appearances this postseason.
All of that, combined with the enormous stakes at hand, make Lincecum the perfect candidate to take the ball for San Francisco in Game 4 of the NLCS with his team down 2-1. His battle-tested demeanor, accompanied with his dominant 2.18 ERA in 45.1 innings pitched in his playoff career ought to give the Giants a boost of confidence heading into a virtual must-win game.
Most of Lincecum's success in the playoffs came during the Giants' run at a World Series title in 2010, when the dynamic right-hander was essentially at the top of his game. Lincecum has yet to start a postseason game this October and will be making his first-inning debut in the playoffs Thursday, an inning which has doomed Lincecum all season.
Lincecum surrendered 59 total base runners and sported a cumulative 7.64 ERA in the first inning during the regular season, numbers which greatly hindered his chances of winning. Those numbers also served as a major contributor as to why he started the 2012 postseason in the bullpen.
The most telling statistical component in Lincecum's struggles are extra base hits. He gave up 42 hits for multiple bases, including a whopping 15 home runs in his 15 losses, as compared to just 13 extra base hits in his 10 wins.
If Lincecum is going to sustain his previous postseason dominance in Game 4 of the NLCS, then he needs to successfully spot his two-seam fastball and keep the ball down. Even though his two-seamer does not have the velocity that it once did, it still has enough lateral movement to keep hitters off balance and set up his changeup.
Lincecum does not have the power to blow hitters away with challenge fastballs like he used to. Instead, he is most successful when he is able to mix and match hard stuff with off-speed pitches. His changeup acts like a splitter without the velocity and has a similar movement to his two-seam fastball, making it difficult for hitters to distinguish between the two pitches.
Look for a lot of ground balls and strikeouts to determine if Lincecum will dominate. If he's right, given his resurgence thus far in the postseason, there is no limit to what he could accomplish.
The stage is set for Tim Lincecum to continue his postseason dominance, but Adam Wainwright (7.88 ERA in eight postseason innings pitched) and the St. Louis Cardinals are going to do all they can to spoil the show.