Ray Ratto

Lincecum dominant, but questions remain

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Lincecum dominant, but questions remain

BOX SCORE
SAN FRANCISCO -- Perfect. A Tim Lincecum outing in which everyone can make up their own result. That ought to advance the issue of whether he is ready for the second half or not.

He watched his fellow Giants steal his fourth win but still beat the Houston Astros in 12 innings, 3-2, and retake the NL West lead by six percentage points over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who actually did turn a wild pitch and lousy fielding into a loss against San Diego.

RELATED: MLB standings

But we digress.

Lincecum had more than done his job, shutting the Astros out for eight innings, which is fine when you ignore the fact that they get shut out once every nine games or so. He struck out 11, a sign that he was about to regain his command, until you realize he threw an awful lot of high strikes past slow bats.

And he did not top 90 miles per hour with any pitch after the third inning, which is not a good sign, but he had better command of his off-speed repertoire, which is a good one.

In short, he won without being the Lincecum of old, which leaves the Giants and their customer base in the same quandary theyve been in all year -- asking questions with a multitude of contradictory answers.

He was good, but he wasnt cured. He succeeded and didnt get statistical credit. His lowered his ERA below six, but he didnt cause an outbreak of nostalgia.

He did a job. He did what may now be his job. Take that any way you like.

Lets face it, kids. This is what its going to be for each of his last 13 starts this year. You wont know what youre going to get, but youre going to agonize and over-analyze and over-over-analyze every appearance like it was December 20 and he was a freshly discovered Mayan.

He didnt look overpowering against the Astros, even though his pitching line did. This is probably an indication that he isnt, well, overpowering. His fastball started at 92 mph and was consistently at 89 after the third, but the Astros, almost surely the worst team in the game, werent on the fastball in any meaningful way.

And then when he shifted to his breaking stuff starting in the fourth, the Astros werent on that, either. In other words, they walked back to the dugout on all his pitches, fast or slow, in the zone or out.

This surely tells us that the Astros are a brutal offensive team. Indeed, they managed to extend Saturdays game only because Santiago Casilla and Hector Sanchez bollixed up what would have been the games final out, going strikeout, kick save, long run, bad throw, bad return throw to allow Justin Maxwell to score the tying run.

But Saturday was mostly another Timmy Caucus, because he remains the migraine that keeps on giving. He was a merciful benefactor, to be sure, but it was a scuffle rather than a sculpture.

And thats probably how its going to be from here on out. The new Lincecum paradigm may simply be one without style points. Every out should be considered a victory, and every non-out a cause for worry. If your stomach can handle it, fine. If not, white-knuckle your way through that Costco vat of antacids every time he pitches.

And spare a few tablets of medicated chalk for those Casilla save opportunities, too. This will not be user-friendly baseball.

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

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MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

The San Jose Earthquakes cheated the reaper Sunday, which is news in and of itself. I mean, they’re a playoff team so rarely that getting to a 35th game is quite the achievement, and they should not begin the arduous process of sobering up until Tuesday morning.

I mean, their playoff game with Vancouver is Wednesday night, so slapping themselves back into form is probably a priority.

They got an improbable stoppage time goal from Marco Urena Sunday against Minnesota to sneak through the back door into the final Western Conference playoff spot Sunday, their first appearance in the postseason in five years. It was as electrifying a moment as Avaya Stadium has seen since it opened, and one of the best goals in franchise history if only for its importance.

That said, the Quakes also enter the postseason with a losing record (13-14-7) and the worst goal difference (minus-21) for any playoff team in league history. They are the most cinder-based of the league’s Cinderella stories, and are dismissed with prejudice by most observers as being as one-and-done as one-and-done can be without being none-and-done.

This is a league, though, that has respected timing more than dominance. In 2016, the Montreal Impact finished last in the East and got to the conference final; in 2012, Houston (which was a relocated Quakes team) just snuck in to the postseason and reached the final; in 2005 and 2009, the worst (Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake) ended up first.

In other words, the Quakes’ pedigree, modest though it is, still allows it a counterpuncher’s chance. Its attack, which is third-worst in the league, playoffs or no, is matched by its defense, which is fourth-worst in the league. Their years as a de facto vehicle for Chris Wondolowski are coming to a close, sooner rather than later. They are in no way an elegant team. They are working on their second coach of the year (Chris Leitch).

But therein lies their mutating charm. Their postseason pedigree stinks, but there is a no compelling reason why they cannot cheat a result or two. After all, the lower scoring a sport is, the greater chance for an upset, and the Quakes’ history screams that no franchise could use one more.

So they head for Vancouver, a raucous crowd and a difficult side, carrying with them only their humble resume and the indomitable cheek demanded of the upstart. I mean, anybody in their right mind would much prefer the Whitecaps’ chances, but you gotta be who you gotta be.

Plus, the Quakes are getting a 35th game, which is more than they had a right to expect, all things considered.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

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USATI

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.