10/05/10 1:00 PM ET
Postseason vet Lowe faces first-timer Lincecum
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
For the Braves' Derek Lowe, it'll be anything but new territory.
The two right-handers with disparate postseason experience will square off as the Giants and Braves open up what would figure to be an NLDS dictated by two of the best pitching staffs in the Majors, starting with the first pitch Lincecum throws at 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.
That pitch will be Lincecum's first beyond the regular season, though he has accomplished much during the 162-game schedule the last three years. In a nutshell: He has two NL Cy Young Awards and three consecutive NL strikeout titles -- joining Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn as the only Senior Circuit pitchers to make a run like that since World War II.
For Lowe, this will mark his seventh Division Series, his 12th Division Series appearance and his 22nd postseason trip to the mound overall. He's been in the October spotlight before, right up to the peak of starting the 2004 World Series clincher for the Red Sox.
"You play the game to be able to have the chance to pitch in big games," Lowe said. "It's something we all strive to do."
Lincecum won't be alone among his teammates in participating in his first playoff game. Same goes for teammates such as closer Brian Wilson and first baseman Aubrey Huff, who, heading into October, ranks third among active players with 1,479 regular-season games without a postseason appearance, behind Randy Winn and Michael Young -- the latter ending his wait as well.
And while the Braves have postseason veterans dotted throughout their roster like Lowe, likely Game 3 starter Tim Hudson, closer Billy Wagner and first baseman Derrek Lee, they also have some key newbies among their core players. Rookie outfielder Jason Heyward and likely Game 2 starter Tommy Hanson are making their first forays into the October party.
For the two franchises, this is a fresh start into the postseason, a new era of success. This is a different Braves club than the previous 14 manager Bobby Cox took into the postseason from 1991-2005, and these are not Barry Bonds' Giants.
When the Giants were last in the playoffs in 2003, Lincecum was starting his freshman year at the University of Washington. When the Braves were last in the playoffs in '05, Lowe was beginning four years with the Dodgers -- one of four career stops thus far for the 37-year-old right-hander.
In a series that figures to be dictated by pitching, this opening matchup will set the tone.
Both pitchers are coming into October on a roll. Lincecum, who went through an August slump unlike any other he'd encountered in his career thus far, finished very strong in September, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA. Lowe rolled through September with just as much dominance, going 5-1 with a 1.17 ERA and winning NL Pitcher of the Month honors.
For Lincecum, getting back on the horse after some struggles early in the season and the precipitous fall in August was really the first daunting challenge he'd faced in his Major League career. In August, he lost all five of his starts while posting a 7.82 ERA, and continued tinkering with his unique mechanics.
"There's no question he was searching a little bit -- more than a little bit," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said.
Based on his September performance, Lincecum apparently found what he was looking for -- going back to long-tossing between starts and sharpening his preparation -- and he has been back to his electrifying self.
Calling it the "epitome of a roller-coaster ride," Lincecum turned this season into another tale of success. Even if a third straight NL Cy Young Award appears out of the question, his 231 strikeouts and superb stretch run showed he can get through adversity almost as well as he can get through lineups.
"Am I mentally strong as I used to be? That's the test," Lincecum said recently. "You find out a little bit about yourself. ... I learned a lot out of it."
Lowe had his own problems to deal with in August. His right elbow was hurting, and he had just two wins in a span of 13 starts. After a meeting with pitching coach Roger McDowell, Lowe turned it around, got his slider working again and helped push the Braves into the playoffs.
That he brings such a substantial postseason resume into the opener is just one plus the Braves have in putting Lowe on the mound against the Giants. He is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in eight career starts at AT&T Park and 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his past five starts against the Giants.
Although Braves hitters have batted just .219 in Lincecum's two starts against them, it was in Atlanta where his August struggles began as he gave up homers to Alex Gonzalez and Eric Hinske in a 3-2 loss.
Of course, August and September go out the window when you get to October -- though perhaps it's fair to say Lowe knows that better than Lincecum.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.