Will Tim Lincecum get it going?
The Freak takes on Roy Halladay in the best pitching matchup of Monday night
Not since the 2009 season have a pair of two-time Cy Young winners gone head-to-head, but we'll be treated to that Monday night when Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants host Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies. Will the Lincecum of old return in this game? That's one question our Triple Play panelists are pondering.
1. Tim Lincecum squares off against Roy Halladay on Monday. Will The Freak finally get nasty?
Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl), SweetSpot
He'll be good, but the team he'll face in the game helps. The Phillies' offense is the oldest in the league, and it's producing runs at a clip that will force all of their star starting pitchers to be near-perfect to eke out wins. Ty Wigginton is a symptom of what ails the 15th-ranked offense in the NL in the early going: His bat won't play at a corner, his glove won't play anywhere else and he's a herald of bad news. Of the past six teams to employ him, five have seen their records worsen. Only the Astros -- the Astros! -- improved after getting Wiggy.
Kevin Orris (@kevinorris), Capitol Avenue Club
I would have a really tough time betting against Lincecum in his next start no matter which team he faces. For all the talk of his problems, he's striking out 11.7 batters per nine, which would represent a career high. His downfall has been a home run-to-fly ball rate of 28.6 percent, which is more than double the league average. Expect that to drop and his ERA to fall with it.
Evan Brunell (@evanbrunell), Fire Brand of the American League
Unless Lincecum's fastball velocity ticks back up toward what we've come to expect of him lately, he'll continue to struggle, as the separation between his fastball and changeup velocity will no longer trip up batters. Lincecum could survive if he developed pinpoint command, but he's trending backward in that category as well. He may benefit from a handicapped Phillies offense Monday, but any success that doesn't come without an increase in fastball velocity is likely a mirage.
2. The Chicago White Sox played the Detroit Tigers tough this past weekend. Will the AL Central be closer than we had assumed?
Kahrl: It will be, not so much because the Tigers' defense is the handicap people made it out to be but because they have a problem rounding out their rotation without Doug Fister (just as they did last year before they traded for him). And guess what the White Sox have? A strong rotation. If the Indians or White Sox solve their lineup questions, watch out. The Royals could regret thinking they were a year away this past winter.
Orris: We won't let a three-game series muddy our expectations for the season, right? I don't see any team other than Detroit finishing with more than 85 wins. Cleveland might be the closest thing the Tigers have to competition, but it is impossible to expect Shelley Duncan to maintain his current pace or newly signed Johnny Damon to have a significant impact.
Brunell: It's difficult to see the Tigers not eventually running away from the rest of the pack in the AL Central. If that's not the case, however, it won't be the White Sox leading the charge, as they're a team being remade on the fly, caught between rebuilding and retooling. The best challenger to Detroit is Cleveland, but even the Indians need a few things to break right to keep up with Detroit's vaunted offense.
3. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals are struggling again. Which of these franchises will make the playoffs first?
Kahrl: The Royals. The Pirates might reach 82-80 in 2013, but the Royals are just a quality starter from being able to keep up with the Joneses in the low-ceiling Central and two starters from being the favorite. Kansas City will win the AL Central in 2014. Book it, Danno.
Orris: The Pirates have some of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but those guys are pretty far from even reaching the big leagues, much less succeeding in the majors. The Royals are my pick by default, especially with the addition of the second wild card. I think they will make the playoffs by 2015, considering the offensive potential of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers.
Brunell: The Royals will make the playoffs first. They have an easier path to the division title thanks to the current and future level of competition around them, and they also have a strong farm system with several important contributors already in the majors. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, pales in comparison to K.C. when it comes to pitching depth as well as the ability to round out the team with strong complementary players from the farm.
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