San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy has shuffled his starting rotation so his best pitcher could potentially take the ball in the season finale if the NL West title is on the line.
The Giants are hoping to lock up the division before then.
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Two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum has been pushed up a day and will try to help first-place San Francisco inch closer to its first playoff berth in seven years Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Giants (89-69) moved two games ahead of San Diego atop the division with a 4-2 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday, coupled with the Padres’ 5-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
“This game puts us in first place two games up. If we win (Wednesday) we’re even closer to winning the division,” winning pitcher Jonathan Sanchez said.
The Giants, winners of four of five, conclude the season with a three-game home series against San Diego – currently loser of three in a row – beginning Friday that could decide the division champion.
By moving Lincecum (15-10, 3.51 ERA) up one day – still on normal rest – the ace will be available either on short rest for Sunday’s finale or for a one-game playoff with San Diego on Monday if the division race comes down to that.
San Francisco, which hasn’t won the West since 2003, could wrap up the division before the Padres even come to town if it wins its next two over Arizona and San Diego loses its final two to the Cubs.
“We’re close,” said third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who hit a key two-out double in the sixth inning Tuesday. “Five more games. We have to play hard. Don’t get comfortable.”
Lincecum was dominant in Colorado on Friday, allowing one run and two hits with nine strikeouts in eight innings of a 2-1 victory. The right-hander, who leads the NL with 220 strikeouts, improved to 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five outings this month after recording a 7.82 ERA while losing all five August starts.
“He’s an incredible talent,” Bochy said. “When he’s on top of his game, he’s going to be tough. That’s why he’s won two Cy Youngs. He’s back to what he is and pitching like we’ve seen the last couple of years.”
Lincecum wasn’t on top of his game against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 27, yielding four runs, five hits and four walks in six innings of a 6-0 home loss, but less than two weeks later in Arizona, he allowed three runs while striking out 11 in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-3 win.
Lincecum is 6-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 13 career starts against the Diamondbacks, keeping some of their top hitters in check. Stephen Drew is batting .167 in 36 at-bats, Chris Young is hitting .139 in 36 at-bats and Miguel Montero is 5 for 29 off the San Francisco ace.
Arizona (64-93) has lost 11 of 16 against the Giants this year, but scheduled starter Ian Kennedy (9-9, 3.76) has pitched well in the season series, going 1-1 with a 2.20 ERA in four starts.
Kennedy has a 0.75 ERA in four outings this month, but a lack of support from either his lineup or bullpen has left him without a decision. The right-hander opened the month against the Giants on Sept. 6, and allowed two hits in eight scoreless innings of a 2-0, 11-inning loss.
Kennedy is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in nine starts since losing to Washington on Aug. 4, but is coming off an inefficient outing. He allowed one run and three hits against Colorado on Thursday, but was lifted after throwing 84 pitches in four innings. The Diamondbacks went on to win 10-9.