As Andrew Baggarly writes, "It's a miracle the Giants lead the NL wild-card standings by a half-game as Lincecum and Sandoval struggle through trying years."
As Baggarly also writes, the Giants think they know what's wrong with their stars ...
- Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval are fan favorites and franchise cornerstones, celebrated in the stands at AT&T Park with furry panda hats and fake wigs.
But on the field, there is no disguising it: They are having underwhelming years, if not complete disappointments. And their commitment to fitness has been called into question -- by outsiders as well as those who work with them every day.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy pulled no punches when asked what offseason goals he would set for his Laurel & Hardy-shaped duo.
"Really, the biggest goal is to get them in the best condition they've ever been in," the manager said in a candid interview before Wednesday's epic, extra-inning loss to the Reds.
Sandoval's issue is obvious. A well-publicized "Camp Panda" effort to shed pounds in Arizona last winter yielded no lasting effects; he began the season at a listed weight of 262 pounds that probably was a vanity number.
For Lincecum, the conditioning issue is a little more complicated. His unique mechanics rely on a gymnast's flexibility to generate torque, so bulking up isn't the answer. The ultra-lean ace has plenty of muscle definition, anyway.
But the coaching staff believes cardiovascular fatigue and a lack of lower-body strength are reasons his fastball loses steam after two or three innings, contributing to an 11-8 record and 3.72 ERA. The lack of velocity, combined with decreased command, has sapped his confidence.
I'm a little hazy on exactly when Lincecum didn't do the requisite conditioning.
Was it during the off-season? Because Lincecum pitched exceptionally well in the first month of this season, and in the first half as well; at the All-Star break, he was 9-4 with a 3.16 ERA, with the only blot on his record a slighly elevated walk rate (and, it should be said, signs that his fastball wasn't as fast as usual).
His second-half numbers aren't as good ... but that's an illusion. In Lincecum's first four second-half starts, he went 4-0 with a 2.83 ERA. It's the next four starts -- which are also his last four, if you're counting -- that have people worried: 0-4, 8.38 ERA, and four home runs allowed in only 19 innings, with elevated pitch counts.
When a two-time Cy Young winner goes through a stretch like that, people are going to talk. Especially when the fastball obviously isn't the pitch that it once was. I'm just trying to figure out the math on this thing. Did Lincecum give up on conditioning last winter, and it's just now catching up with him? Did he stop doing his running and his medicine-ball throwing this summer? And if so, isn't the coaching staff supposed to be on top of stuff like this?
These are just questions. Bruce Bochy's not an idiot. If he thinks Lincecum needs to work harder, he's probably right. But I think it's worth at least wondering if everyone's trying to explain a bit of random variation. Or if everyone's just hoping against hope that Lincecum doesn't have some problem that can't be solved by a few hours on the StairMaster.