…is to ride the roller coaster of baseball. When Grant Balfour takes the mound, it’s always an event. We all know the story of the Balfour rage, but sometimes the excitement is only just beginning when Balfour is warming up. Anecdotally, Balfour walks the lead off hitter seemingly every time he tries to save a game. Of course he’s gotten the job done many more times than not, 37 of 39 times to be exact this season.
He’s hit a few bumps in the road as of late though, highlighted by the crushing Torii Hunter walk off home run. In his last five appearances he has given up runs in three of them. So yeah, technically he’s gotten the job done, but he hasn’t made it easy for anyone.
When Balfour allowed a run Friday night en route to converting his 37th save of the season, there was much unrest throughout the Athletics universe. Quite frankly, such concern is justified considering how Balfour has pitched recently. It’s late in the season, so it’s understandable that Balfour could be tiring a bit. His fastball showed a little decrease in velocity recently, and he has had trouble throwing strikes consistently as well. That’s not exactly a recipe for success.
Balfour has noticed the changing of the tune from some fans. He spoke to Susan Slusser prior to Saturday’s game and stated he was fine, and appeared to chalk his struggles up to just some simple misfortune, and that he’s just fine. We all certainly hope that’s the case.
It’s hard to imagine even discussing something like this considering the dominance Balfour had established during the first half of the season. But this is the reality that has to be faced at this point in time. The Athletics have to consider just how hard they’ll be able to push a 35 year old pitcher like Balfour as the innings, and most importantly the pitches continue to pile up. Balfour was unavailable Saturday after his long inning on Friday, and Sean Doolittle stepped in admirably in his place. It’s not ideal, but the Athletics need to continue to do things like this if they want to have Balfour available and effective in any possible playoff series.
It’s a hard balance to manage, trying to win each and every game, while also trying to preserve your chances in the postseason. It’s not anything as extreme as the Stephen Strasburg situation with the Washington Nationals last year, but it’s a delicate one nonetheless. Keeping a fresh Balfour should ultimately improve both the A’s chances of making the postseason, and of playing deep into the postseason. He hasn’t been the same as of late, and it is the responsibility of the Athletics to get him back into form for the stretch run. They will need to trust him in potentially huge situations, and the last thing we need to see is an all out implosion like we saw in Detroit last week.