When Tim Lincecum won the National League Cy Young Award last year, not a lot of people could think that the man they call The Franchise could get much better than he was.
Heck, you weren't going out a limb when you thought that a guy who went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and struck out 265 could get much better. Not many people thought that Lincecum could do much for an encore in his second full season as a major leaguer and newly proclaimed ace of the San Francisco Giants.
But as the 2009 season has gone on and the Giants have surprised many by staying in the Wild Card race, Lincecum has proven that his statements in Spring Training about getting better are indeed becoming a reality. He said he wanted to and he's showing that even the best pitcher in the National League in 2008 can get better, stronger, and dominant at the same time.
The hair is getting longer and even more out of control as the days go by. It really doesn't matter when you keep throwing gems one after another and keep your team in the race.
On Monday he threw a complete game masterpiece—striking out a career-high 15 hitters and completely baffling Pittsburgh Pirates hitters time and time again.
What did he do for an encore Saturday night?
Threw another eight innings of shutout baseball and struck out eight all against Philadelphia Phillies and the National League-leading scoring offense that come with the Phightins. He did surrender seven hits, but even though he didn’t have his usual spot-on fastball command for extended periods of time, he still weathered the storm with runners on-base and get out of any and every jam the Phils threw at him.
Even with his best stuff, he can throw a gem. That's awfully scary.
It wasn’t like he was facing one of the games worst offenses, though; this gem from the arm of Lincecum came against the Phillies. You may have heard of them—they are the defending World Series champs.
These were the same Phillies Lincecum made his big league debut against two years and two months ago. The same Phillies team that put six runs on the board just 28 days later at Citizens Bank Park.
Things are a little different these days.
The Lincecum we see now has come along way from the Lincecum of May 2007 that had the clean-cut haircut and wore his socks high.
And it’s not like the Giants offense blew Phillies pitching out of the water, either. All they could muster off of Country Joe Blanton were two Juan Uribe sacrifice flies were the only runs that crossed the plate in a game with two teams that have totally different ways of putting numbers on the board.
It was just Lincecum being Lincecum.
With his win Saturday night, Lincecum moves his record this season to 12-3 and lowered his ERA to a microscopic 2.12. His career record is now at a mind-blowing 37-13 and a video-game like 2.87 ERA in 80 games. He only trails Tim Hudson amongst active pitchers to get off to a better first 50 decisions of their career.
Not bad and it's only getting better.
He may only be 25 years old and in his second-full season, but Lincecum understands the art of pitching like a grizzled veteran who has been around the league a few times.
Based on pure stuff, Lincecum is always going to be one of the best in the business. But if you don’t have a legitimate clue of how to use it, you’re going to end up s one of those over-hyped first round draft picks who barely have a career above Triple-A.
Equipped with his mid-90s fastball and hammer for a curve, Lincecum has developed a change-up that has the movement that you can only have by editing a player on your PlayStation and cranking the rankings up all the way.
Not only has Lincecum just continued to blow through every team he has faced this season, he is doing it as an even more-complete pitcher than he was a year ago.
He’s going deeper into games, having already doubled the amount of complete games and shutouts that he had a year ago, and the efficiency in which he is doing it is phenomenal.
The walks are down and the results have even better than a year before, a 4.66 strikeout-to-walk ratio compared to 3.15 in 2008. His WHIP barely hovers above one and while the hits allowed per nine innings is basically the same, his ability to go deeper into games on a consistent basis is because he’s barely walking anybody at all.
However, unlike last year, Lincecum has a teammate having just as much success on the mound as he is.
With Matt Cain becoming the ace that everybody in the San Francisco organization and anybody who followed them believe he could be, the Giants have the best one-two punch not only in the National League, but all of baseball.
The dominating twosome are tied in wins and are separated by just a few measly one-hundredths in ERA. Obviously Lincecum takes the top in strikeouts, but who else would really challenge him the way he is throwing this season?
It’s no surprise that the Giants lead the majors with 15 shutouts and that Lincecum and Cain are the biggest reason why they are where they are.
A little friendly competition has never hurt anybody.
The 2008 Cy Young could have a buddy coming soon. The only thing standing between Lincecum and another piece of hardware is his own teammate.
Knowing how he is, if Lincecum lost out to Cain, he wouldn't mind one bit.
But I'm sure he wouldn't mind his 2008 Cy Young trophy to have a buddy sitting next to it.
There's a reason why every fifth day is truly a holiday in the city by the bay.