Both the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs sit atop their respective divisions, one-fifth of the way through the 2016 season, the Cubs’ hot start approaching historic proportions. Their 23-6 record to begin the season, is the best since the 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers started off also winning 23 of their first 29 games.
One successful component both of these teams have in common, is a pitching staff that knows its way around the batting cage. Giants pitchers lead all of MLB with eleven RBIs, while the Cubs are right behind with ten. Former Cub Jeff Samardzija leads his staff with five; Jake Arietta and Jason Hammel have three apiece.
Did you see Jeff Samardzija break the bat over his leg, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds last week? It’s not the first time I have witnessed this in an MLB game, but it is the first time I have ever seen a pitcher do it. What it says about Samardzija is threefold: He is a fierce competitor, he will display his emotion in much the same fashion as Jake Peavy and he is one strong individual.
Can you imagine how much that would hurt if the bat did not break?
Speaking of hurt, the Cubs and Giants were among at least twenty teams scouting Tim Lincecum, who spent the off-season rehabbing from a degenerative hip issue. He had arthroscopic surgery last fall and showcased his pitching repertoire Friday in Scottsdale.
Lincecum, who reportedly hit 91 on the radar gun, was 7-4 for San Francisco last season, with a 4.13 ERA and a WHIP of 1.48. He has made it clear that he wants to start, so of course, the Dodgers were also at the showcase.
From Giants fans’ perspective, could anything possibly be worse than seeing a sneering Timmy, throwing scuds at Giants players, while they flailed helplessly? I think not. It would make Juan Uribe’s defection to LA after the 2010 season pale in comparison, and that one was brutal.
Interestingly, the Cubs first selected Lincecum in the 48th round of the 2003 draft, but he went on to attend the University of Washington and was subsequently selected in the tenth round by the Giants in 2006.
Timmy’s credentials include back-to-back Cy Young Awards (2008-09), and he was crucial in two of the three Giants World Championships. With both the Cubs and Giants leading their respective divisions, acquiring Lincecum would be as much about preventing him from going to a rival, as it would be about improving the team.
Though earlier when Lincecum expressed the desire to start, Bochy made it clear that he wanted to give both Jake Peavy and Matt Cain as much time as they needed, to pitch their way back into form. Now, with Peavy’s ERA at nine, right where it was all through spring training, and Cain’s at 7.86, Bochy has to be reevaluating his thought process.
One thing in the Giants’ favor is that when asked where he would most like to end up, Lincecum’s immediate choice was San Francisco. Let’s face it, like Pablo Sandoval, Timmy achieved super hero status regardless of how he performed.
San Francisco’s embracing of Timmy as a Bay Area icon, included a spirited campaign following the 2009 season to “Let Timmy Smoke,” following Lincecum’s citation for indulging in cannabis. It was an indication, prior to any of the three title runs, that Giants fans were willing to follow their diminutive pitcher to the sky and back.
After signing a two-year contract for $35 million prior to the 2014 season, Lincecum failed to live up to heightened expectations, but all would be summarily forgotten, were Timmy to don the Orange and Black again.
All fans have to do is think back to that dominating 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the 2010 NLDS, when Lincecum struck out fourteen batters and helped lead San Francisco to a 3-1 series win over the Braves.
Or if that doesn’t work, then ponder Timmy’s role as a key reliever in the 2012 World Series.
As a starter or as a reliever, Lincecum was able to disregard the bright lights and distractions that post-season play features, and that is a characteristic that is attractive to all contending teams.
Considering both the Cubs and Giants are contenders, this battle to sign Lincecum may just be the most important one of 2016.