Dickey: Giants' playoff hopes hinge on Lincecum

It’s been an unpredictable season for the Giants, but of this I’m certain: They won’t make the playoffs unless Tim Lincecum returns to his 2008-09 form.

It’s easy enough to see what’s wrong with Lincecum, but not so easy to correct. He has a complicated pitching motion and right now, it’s out of whack. Everything bad that’s happening to him flows from that.

Because his motion is off, so is his control. The basis for his success in his Cy Young-winning years was his ability to get ahead in the count with his fastball, then come back with a change-up for the strikeout.

He showed that form on Sunday in the first inning, as he struck out the side.

But after that, it was a different story, as it has often been lately. He never again took command of the game, giving up four runs in the second and coming out of the game with two outs in the fourth. Oddly, the only hitter he had consistent success against was the Padres’ best, Adrian Gonzalez, whom he struck out three times. But since Gonzalez also struck out against Guillermo Mota, it’s obvious he was just having a bad day.

Because he’s been throwing 90-92 mph at his best, instead of the 95-97 mph of his Cy Young years, some have thought Lincecum  might have an arm problem. He’s denied that and I believe him. Again, I think being out of balance with his motion could cause the loss in velocity because he is not as efficient.

All season long, Giants fans have clamored for general manager Brian Sabean to get more hitting, and he’s done that. Promoting Buster Posey (though he should have been here from day 1) has made a big difference. Picking up Pat Burrell has turned out to be a big help. Burrell won’t stay as hot as he’s been — he’s near .300 in average with a home run every 16 at-bats — but he’s been a steady 30-homer guy for most of his career. Jose Guillen should provide power, too, if he can keep his emotions in check.

But meanwhile, the Giants’ starting pitching, which was supposed to be their strength, has fallen off. Lincecum is the best-worst example, but only rookie Madison Bumgarner has been consistent. Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have been up and down all year.

Barry Zito had a sensational first month, but nobody has known what to expect in his subsequent starts. Tonight, he starts a critical series in Philadelphia, a fly-ball pitcher against a strong lineup in a park in which fly balls often go out. It could be a hide-your-eyes night.

The Giants’ chances of winning the NL West are slight because they can’t beat the San Diego Padres. They are 2-9 against them this season with seven games left. Their one chance seems to be a wild-card spot, so this road trip is critical, six games against the Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals, who will be in the wild-card race if they don’t win their divisions.

It would be much easier if they could count on Lincecum again being a dominating pitcher, but right now, that doesn’t seem likely.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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