10/21/10 1:12 AM ET
Spin Forward: Phillies must beat the Freak
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
With the Giants' counterpunches to the Phillies' first impressive jabs of the postseason giving San Francisco a commanding 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series, there's only one thing the Phillies and their batters have to do now:
Beat the Freak.
Obviously, that's no small feat. But it's been done a few times this year, and with Roy Halladay on the mound the Phillies know they have a low ceiling of runs they'll have to reach.
Remember, for all the rightful hype surrounding another Tim Lincecum-Halladay matchup, this is really Lincecum vs. the Phillies offense and Halladay vs. the Giants offense.
And the Phillies know where they stand.
"We've got Halladay going against Lincecum," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "And I'd say if we like to play with our backs against the wall, it's there now. I think we're standing right there now."
And there's a two-time Cy Young Award winner standing 60 feet, 6 inches away.
Beat the Freak? How do they go about it?
Well, they could hope for Lincecum to have a Pasqual Perez moment and get lost trying to reach the ballpark, as the mercurial former Braves pitcher once did. Other than that, there's not much they can hope for in terms of him making it difficult on himself. And now that GPS is available, well, you can forget about him getting lost en route to AT&T Park.
They won't have a lot of luck waiting for him to get lost on the mound, either. Blessed with supreme focus to go along with his otherworldly stuff, Lincecum gets the most out of his slight 5-foot-10 frame seemingly on every pitch.
But the Phillies can help themselves with a couple of simple rules: Connect with the strikes in the zone when you get them, and lay off the unhittable ones that look good and then wind up in the dirt.
If at all possible, the Phillies need to get Lincecum's pitch count elevated and do it early, especially with the Giants' bullpen a little more taxed than it has been this postseason after the past couple of games. But that might be more up to him than them.
During his August swoon, Lincecum didn't have his normal command and got into hitters' counts more often than he normally would, and was forced to attack more of the plate. He not only got hit harder but he couldn't get as deep into games, and the walks and strikeouts tell the tale: He had 13 walks and 27 strikeouts in 25 1/3 August innings, only eight walks with 52 strikeouts in 41 2/3 September innings. Clearly, this isn't the same guy who was struggling in August, and he has snapped back to form with a stellar September and two postseason starts that more than live up to the hype.
In his historically dominant start against the Braves in the Division Seres opener, Lincecum threw 75 strikes among his 119 pitches, impressive enough -- even more impressive when you consider 31 of those strikes were swings and misses, the highest total by any pitcher in the Majors this season. That included a second inning in which he struck out the side on nine swinging strikes. When he's like that, tip your hat, good luck and hope Halladay's dealing, too.
In his NLCS Game 1 start against the Phillies, Lincecum still threw plenty of strikes -- 71 among his 113 pitches -- but the Phillies tagged him for a pair of doubles and a pair of homers, including the impressive opposite-field shot by Jayson Werth. All the extra-base hits came on his fastball, which, as has been well documented, is in the low 90s, not the 96-97 range he had earlier in his career.
So if he's getting the Phillies to chase his changeup, rated as the best in the Majors, or the slider he just recently integrated into his repertoire, he'll probably be getting in control of at-bats, and therefore the game.
If the Phillies can practice some patience on the breaking stuff and catch up to the hard stuff, they've already seen they can inflict some damage against Lincecum.
Of course, that's a lot easier said than done. It's not something they really wanted to do, but now that their backs are against the wall, they have to figure out a way.
If they want their quest for an NL threepeat to continue, they've got to do just one thing:
Beat the Freak.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.