San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum and the Giants' bullpen have something in common: both are struggling. Lincecum has been on and off (with the bad starts outnumbering the good) this season, infrequently showing flashes of the brilliance most people are used to. The bullpen has struggled over the last two months, trying to find someone to provide quality innings as the closer. So what are the Giants to do come playoff time (if they make it)? A closer-by-committee would be shaky. Lincecum has been shaky. Well, the solution could be to put the two struggling parts together.
With the 2 time Cy Young winner not pitching well for most of the season, the quality of the starting rotation isn't what it could be. Needless to say, he has been a big disappointment so far. Lincecum has been the leader atop the Giants rotation the past few years, but has regressed lately. His strikeout rate is still high, but hitters aren't swinging at every off-speed pitch that drops out of the zone. He's been getting behind hitters and isn't able to locate his fastball at will. His inconsistent control is a huge factor in his struggles. He just hasn't been the Lincecum people are accustomed to, and his ability to pitch well in the playoffs is in question. Which Lincecum will they see?
The bullpen was solid for the first half of the season, making up for the loss of closer Brian Wilson to 'Tommy John' surgery. But interim closer Santiago Casilla has been very bad for the last 2 months, forcing Manager Bruce Bochy to remove him from the ninth inning and installing a closer-by-committee. Since then, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Clay Hensley, and Javier Lopez have all seen time in the ninth inning in a closing capacity. They've been ok with the committee, but having a person with closer-stuff entrenched in the closer's role would help the bullpen. Being able to go back into set roles will alleviate pressure and any anxiety amongst the relievers. By knowing where they'll be coming in, the guy can be more relaxed, prepared, and focused.
So where is this going? Here it is: If the Giants make the playoffs, they should go with a three-man rotation of Matt Cain/Madison Bumgarner/Ryan Vogelsong and move Tim Lincecum to the bullpen (even into the closer's role). Lincecum has the power and the swing and miss stuff that is typical of closers. His repertoire would be well served in the pen. Yes, Lincecum has struggled in the first inning this season, but as a closer, he would be able to just let it go. He wouldn't have to worry too much about not showing his best stuff or holding back a little to last deep into the game. Known as "The Freak" for his unique delivery and 'freakish' ability to recover from start to start with no ice for the shoulder or anything, Lincecum should have no issue closing on back-to-back games. He has the stuff indicative of a closer; whether he possesses the closer mentality would be something to see.
A move would not only help the bullpen, but it'd strengthen the rotation as well. The way the games of each playoff series are spaced, the potential three-man-rotation would have ample rest. Each guy would have an average of four days rest, which is plenty for workhorses like Cain and Bumgarner. Joined by the steady Vogelsong, this playoff rotation would be tough to beat. The three will each undoubtedly garner quite a few votes for the Cy Young Award. By leaving out (a) weak link(s), the Giants accomplish what they did in 2010 when the left Barry Zito off the roster. Zito wasn't entirely needed and they felt he didn't give them the best chance to win. The same could be said now with Lincecum. His value as a starter isn't what it was in prior years. But even if Lincecum was included in the playoff rotation, he'd most likely be the fourth starter (based off of performance) and would potentially make an impact only once per series. But by having him be part of the closer picture, he helps clear that up and can leave his mark on more than just one game per series.
Of course this 'plan' hinders on the Giants reaching the playoffs. They have the team to get there, and all it takes is to get hot at the right time. If they make it, some guys get hot, and Lincecum is able to help stabilize the bullpen, then another magical run could be on the horizon. Get ready San Francisco, Market Street might be hosting another parade this year.752240