Tim Lincecum vs. Oakland A's May 21, 2011
Tim Lincecum returned to form Saturday afternoon after a minor speed bump in his last start.
And he came back better than ever.
However, it was another story on Saturday in San Francisco.
The Giants ace got the win to remain undefeated in five starts against the Bay Area rival Oakland A's. "The Freak" gave up only three hits and got the complete-game shutout as the Giants took the second of three games in the interleague series.
In his fifth shutout, Lincecum retired a career-high 21 consecutive batters and expanded on his team's lead atop the NL West division to a game and a half.
The superb performance from the dominant right-hander is not surprising. In his first four years in the big leagues, Lincecum has established himself as one of the best players in the game. Everyone in baseball has watched the young pitcher evolve.
Before players were able to comprehend his deceptively unorthodox delivery, he had already won two Cy Young awards.
After being deemed unhittable in 2008 and 2009 there was a lot of talk about whether or not Tim Lincecum could keep up with his own accomplishments. The diminished speed on his fastball was over-speculated about.
When we saw him struggle for the first time in his career, when he went 0-5 and posted a 7.82 ERA in August 2010, many people doubted that he could remain the most feared opponent to face in baseball.
However, the young pitcher went on to go undefeated in September, and lead the unlikely Giants team to become world champions.
Two months into the 2011 season, Lincecum has shown us that he is on pace to be even more commanding than ever. His impressive complete-game shutout of the A's in this series is another addition to this portfolio.
Lincecum's 4-4 record this year does not reflect his accomplishments this season, but it does reflect something else: his leadership of this team and its tragic offense may have him on track for what would be a record-breaking third Cy Young award in his fifth season of service.
Nobody believed they would be able to do it last year—but the Giants won the World Series. Although he wasn't the only contributor, it would not have happened without Tim Lincecum.
In 2011, he puts the Giants in a very good position to come out on top of the NL West and have a shot to be the first team to repeat a championship since 2001.
He just might do that because he actually has his best stuff ever so far this year.
Lincecum has actually increased his velocity, hitting 97 mph in most of his 10 starts so far this year. Not only is he bringing the heat, but he has increased his stamina, foreshadowing dominance throughout the season.
Lincecum looked sharper in the top of the ninth inning today in San Francisco than he did in the top of the first, finishing off the last two batters on 95 and 96 mph fastballs. He also has more experience and better understanding of his own pitches.
Last year, Felix Hernandez was awarded the Cy Young award with 13 wins. Lincecum is not going to be a 20-game winner in 2011 either, simply because the Giants offense is not up to par with his pitching.
However, if he continues to show the league that he has become an even better pitcher than he was in his first two years in the league, don't be surprised to see his name high up in the Cy Young award votes in September.