Media overreaction or serious problem? Tim Lincecum is struggling.

When your run-of-the-mill starting pitcher suffers back-to-back poor outings, the media assumes he’s in a funk and usually nothing more is made out of it. But when the defending two-time Cy Young award winner suffers back-to-back poor outings, the media goes into a Mountain Dew-mixed-with-cocaine-like frenzy and poses questions such as: What’s wrong with Tim Lincecum? What’s wrong with Tim Lincecum! What’s wrong with Tiqiowehgoiwgh….

After giving up six runs in 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday night in a loss to the Nationals, all the talk in San Francisco yesterday was about Lincecum’s struggles. He also pitched poorly in a no-decision against the Diamondbacks in the start prior to his outing on Wednesday and has now walked five batters in each of his last three games after walking just 10 in his first seven starts combined. He has routinely fallen behind hitters early in counts and his main issue has been control.

But before this becomes national news, remember that Lincecum held the Astros to one run over eight innings on May 15 and also struck out 13 Marlins while walking just one on May 4. It’s not like he’s been in a season-long funk and the Giants have this huge crisis on their hands; he just needs to figure out what has ailed him over these last two games.

I’m not Dave Righetti, but it appears as though Lincecum’s struggles are mental. Early in the game Wednesday night against the Nationals, he allowed a runner a free 90 feet when he couldn’t handle the throw back from first baseman Aubrey Huff following a pickoff attempt. Those things happen when a player isn’t focused and it seems as though Lincecum’s struggles are getting inside his head and he’s pressing. The more an athlete fights his struggles, the more his struggles consume him and in my non-professional opinion, I think that’s what’s happening to Lincecum. Maybe he also has a small mechanical issue that Righetti can iron out, but it seems as if he’s suffering from lack of confidence more than anything else. (Not that he doesn’t have confidence, but maybe the seed of doubt has been planted in his head.)

Another underlining issue is the fact that the Giants paid him this past offseason (two years, $23 million), so now he has to deal with the pressures of trying to live up to a contract. If there’s one person that knows about that it’s Lincecum’s teammate and good friend, Barry Zito, who signed a $126 million contract with the Giants in 2007. Zito is living proof that the pressures of a contract can eat away at a player.

When things start to go badly for an athlete, he never feels like he’ll find success again. But Lincecum is an elite pitcher and it’s because he’s so good that people have already started hitting the panic button after two bad outings. During a 162-game season, the media has to talk about something and it has latched onto Lincecum after Wednesday night.

But he’ll be fine – everyone goes through these rough patches. Even two-time Cy Young winners.

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Zito finally pitching like the Zito of old

Giants fans have spent three agonizing years watching Barry Zito ruin perfectly pleasant nights in San Francisco with his horrid pitching. It has been enough to make them want to break his guitar over the back of his head and dump his body on Alcatraz Island.

But this year, he’s finally giving them a reason to chant “Barry, Barry, Barry!” again without fear of the steroid gods judging them.

Heading into last year’s All-Star break, Zito owned a 24-36 record, with a 4.47 ERA through his first 77 starts in a Giants uniform. Considering he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2006, it’s safe to say that San Francisco wasn’t getting its money out of the lefty.

But since that point, Zito has compiled a 2.38 ERA in 21 starts. In the second half last season, he was a respectable third starter behind Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. This year, he’s gone from being respectable to being the pitcher the Giants thought they had signed back in ’06.

After picking up another win in a masterful performance against the Marlins on Wednesday night, Zito is now 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA. Skeptics will point out that his fastball still doesn’t have much life to it, but it’s hard to argue that his curve and change aren’t weapons of mass destruction again. More importantly, he seems to be pitching without the burden of the contract weighing him down. He’s been a much smarter pitcher in his last 21 starts than he’s ever been at any point during his time in San Fran.

Chances are that Zito will never live up to his contract. Fans are just going to have to learn to bite down and swallow hard on that bitter pill. But at least to this point, they can take solace in that he has found a way to turn back the clock and has helped the Giants get off to a good start in the NL West. In Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and now a resurrected Zito, the G-Men arguably have the best 1-4 in baseball. And if they continue to get quality outings from their $126 million man, it won’t be long before they’re snapping their six-year playoff drought.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

MLB Roundup: Scutaro error costs BoSox, Zito impresses & Crawford delivers in the clutch

Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
Newcomer Marco Scutaro didn’t endear himself to many Red Sox fans on Tuesday night when he botched a routine ground ball in the eighth inning of a 4-4 game. Reliever Hideki Ojajima then walked Nick Johnson with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead and the Mariano Rivera closed out the ninth. Considering the BoSox signed Scutaro for his defense, it wasn’t a good start for the former Blue Jay. The error made Boston fans pine for the days of Julio Lugo, who…all right sorry, I couldn’t continue with that joke. Red Sox fans would rather see Scutaro botch nine more throws than ever see Lugo in a Boston uniform again.

Giants 3, Astros 0
The Astros probably figured that they caught a break when Bruce Bochy decided to throw Barry Zito in between starts by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in Houston’s opening three-game series with the Giants. But the joke was on the Stros, as Zito completely shut them down for six innings. He allowed no runs on three hits while striking out five, proving that he was indeed worth the seven-year, $126 million contract he signed in December in ’06. No? Ah well – it was still a nice outing for the former Cy Young pitcher. Now Houston gets to deal with Cain tomorrow – good luck with that.

Rays 4, Orioles 3
Carl Crawford played the hero for the Rays on Tuesday night, knocking in the game-winning two-run single off Orioles’ closer Mike Gonzalez. It was Crawford’s only hit of the game, but it came at a crucial time. When asked about his dramatic hit afterwards, Crawford replied: “I know, right? Maybe the Rays should pony up for that new contract now – hahahaha…ahhh. Just kidding. But for realsies – where’s my contract?”

Padres 6, Diamondbacks 3
Chris Young managed to deliver his best Jake Peavy impression on Tuesday night, allowing no runs on one hit over six innings of work in San Diego’s win over Arizona. Young also struck out five to earn his first victory of the year. If Young’s shoulder is completely repaired, there’s no reason he can’t post similar numbers to the ones he produced in 2006 (11-5, 3.46 ERA). He’s really, really good…for a max of about six innings. But still – he’s good.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

2010 MLB Preview: NL West

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Last up is the NL West.

1. Colorado Rockies (7)
Before I wax poetically about the youthful Rockies, I have an axe to grind about the television broadcasting crew of Drew Goodman, Jeff Huson and George Frazier. Those three form one of the most biased, nonobjective broadcasting teams in baseball history. I’m not kidding. The Rockies never get the same calls as their opponents do. The Rockies never get the national recognition like everyone else does. The Rockies are the greatest team to ever walk the planet and if they played a roster compiled of Jesus, Moses, God and the 12 apostles, Colorado should win 5-4 in extras nine times out of 10. If not, the Rockies beat themselves, because there’s no way Jesus and the gang were better. Don’t believe me? Just ask Goodman, Huson and Frazier. All right, now that that’s out of the way – the Rockies are a damn fine club and should leapfrog the Dodgers in the division this year. Their core – Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, Chris Iannetta, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez – are all 27 years old or younger and that doesn’t include 26-year-old stud Ubaldo Jimenez, who is absolutely filthy when he’s on. Throw in key veterans like Todd Helton (a perennial .300 hitter) and Jeff Francis (who could win 15-plus games filling in for the departed Jason Marquis), and Colorado has the tools to make a deep run. The question is whether or not starters Francis and Jorge De La Rosa will keep their ERAs below 5.00 and the young offensive players can move forward in their development and not backwards. But outside of the ultra-annoying broadcast team, I love the Rockies from top to bottom this year and believe they can do some damage in 2010.

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Giants to trade Zito? Fat chance.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News is a little delusional.

Either that, or my man has been getting high on peyote, because in one of his recent articles he actually suggested that the Giants have to trade Barry Zito.

And the Giants have to very seriously consider trying to trade Zito to any suitable team that will take some of his money (Zito has a no-trade clause); or they have to think about releasing him in the off-season.

Of course, at the end of this season, Zito will still be owed a guaranteed $83 million. Which is a lot.

Releasing him in the offseason might be a viable (expensive, but viable) option with Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson tearing up the minor leagues and possibly being ready to join the big league club next year. But what team would be stupid enough to trade for Zito and take on some of his contract as Kawakami is suggesting? Even the win-at-all-cost, spend-at-all-cost Yankees wouldn’t touch Zito, especially with Roy Halladay on the market.

Truth be told, Zito hasn’t looked as bad this year as he has the previous two seasons. When he’s supplying souvenirs to the fans sitting in the left field bleachers, he can be serviceable as a fourth or fifth starter. Of course, he’ll still be the highest paid fourth or fifth starter in baseball history, but at least the Giants will be getting something back on their brutal investment.

Either way, nothing is going to happen this year. No team is going to trade for him and with Randy Johnson on the DL the Giants aren’t going to release Zito during the season, no matter how bad he pitches the rest of the way. They could potentially move him to the bullpen (which they tried to do for about a millisecond last year), but don’t forget that he’s typically a good second half pitcher and with the Giants in contention, they’d be better off rolling the dice and leaving him in the rotation.

Better yet while the Big Unit is on the DL, the Giants could pit Zito against Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Sadowski for the last two spots in the rotation. Loser either goes to the bullpen (Zito/Sanchez) or Triple-A (Sadowski).

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