To say pitcher Tim Lincecum struggled in 2012 is to put it gently. The two-time Cy Young winner had the worst year of his young career, ending the season with a 10-15 record and a 5.18 ERA.
In order to repeat their 2012 success, the San Francisco Giants need Lincecum to return to form in 2013.
The Giants simply cannot afford to have Lincecum falter as he did in 2012. San Francisco caught a break in terms of their No. 5 starter, Barry Zito, becoming unbeatable down the stretch. Yes, Zito had an amazing postseason, and ended 2012 with a 15-8 record.
But a closer look at Zito's statistics illustrates the "Baseball Gods" were on the left-hander's side. Zito posted a 4.15 ERA last season, slightly lower than his average ERA during his tenure in San Francisco. Additionally, Zito only averaged 5.6 innings per start.
Save his stellar postseason performance, Zito was more of a good-luck charm for the Giants than anything else.
Lincecum is an essential piece in defending San Francisco's NL West title. This offseason, the defending champs have remained relatively quiet, especially compared to their division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
With the addition of pitcher Zack Greinke, the Dodgers sent a clear message to the Giants and MLB at large. Los Angeles is looking to win it all in 2013, no matter what the cost.
But if Lincecum is able to rebound next season, the Giants have a direct answer to Greinke. The one-two punch of veteran Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke suddenly becomes a lot less scary when countered by the Giants' own ace Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.
Suddenly, the Giants have leveled the playing field.
San Francisco needs their front four starters solid in 2013. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum must pitch to their potential in order to compete with the Dodgers' bolstered starting rotation.
There is hope for Lincecum going into 2013. Lincecum pitched well coming out of the bullpen during the 2012 postseason, posting a 2.55 ERA. He struck out 20 batters and only walked 5. Unfortunately, Lincecum's only poor playoff performance came during his only start, against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
Also important is whether Lincecum will continue to throw to backup catcher Hector Sanchez, as he did midway through 2012, or if he'll return to using Buster Posey as his man behind the plate. Posey is coming back in 2013 at full strength, and Brandon Belt is poised to become the everyday first baseman.
Zito threw to Sanchez in 2012, even extending into the NLDS against the Reds. It seems criminal to have the 2012 NL MVP only catch 3 of 5 starters, especially when Posey's strong defense behind the plate is part of his value as a player. Not only does Lincecum need to find his rhythm individually, but also his sync with Posey as catcher.
Moving on entirely from his 2012 season, how Lincecum pitches in 2013 will have an enormous effect on the team's season. The Giants are well aware of Lincecum's potential impact. His offseason conditioning has included putting on weight in order to aid his stamina on the mound.
Increasing his velocity has not been a focus; rather, maintaining his ability to throw 200+ innings has been the priority. Lincecum is also set to return to the starting rotation, despite his success in the bullpen.
In 2012, the San Francisco Giants won despite Tim Lincecum. The pitching in the NL West is stronger, and the Giants opted to maintain their own rotation. If the Giants hope to repeat their success in 2013, Lincecum needs to return to peak form.