Before surrendering a game-tying, two-run home run to Matt Dominguez in the ninth inning of tonight’s loss, Athletics closer Grant Balfour had converted 44 consecutive saves dating back to early 2012, the sixth-longest such streak in baseball history, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Balfour’s last blown save occurred on April 29 against the Orioles, when he gave up a game-tying two-run double to Matt Wieters and then a walk-off three-run home run to Wilson Betemit.
After the Dominguez homer, Balfour recorded an out, then allowed a double to Jonathan Villar and a walk to Jose Altuve. While pitching to Jason Castro, Balfour threw a pitch in the dirt that bounced off of catcher Derek Norris and went to his left. Villar, on second, threatened to advance but ultimately stayed put. Altuve, at first, thought Villar was advancing, so he was about halfway between first and second when Norris fired to first for what should have been an easy second out of the inning. The throw to first baseman Brandon Moss went wide, glancing off of his outstretched glove and dribbling away. Villar raced around the third base bag and easily scored the winning run for the walk-off win. Surprisingly, it is not Balfour’s first loss of the season. He lost on June 23 in Seattle against the Mariners.
Balfour has been a godsend to the Athletics since they signed him to a two-year, $8.1 million contract with a $4.5 million option for 2013. Entering tonight, Balfour had logged 176.1 innings with the A’s, posting a 2.30 ERA with 52 saves. He made the All-Star team for the first time in his career this year. Prior to tonight’s game, he was averaging better than a strikeout per inning with a 1.59 ERA in 39.2 innings. Tonight’s outing bumps his ERA up to 2.03.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.
Twins’ right-handed pitching prospect Yorman Landa passed away in a tragic car accident on Friday night, per a team statement. According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, 22-year-old Landa was in the passenger seat of the vehicle when it struck a fallen tree.
Daniel Szew, Landa’s agent, spoke highly of the young pitcher, who was one of his first clients back in 2010. Szew acknowledged Landa for helping him expand his company, LA Sports Management, and referred to the late pitcher as a leader and his “little brother.”
He was very even-keeled,” Szew said. “That was his personality. He wasn’t wild. That’s why this is so tragic. He wasn’t a wild guy. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who took life as it came, and he was super happy — always happy.
If leadership was one facet of Landa’s personality, so was loyalty. The 22-year-old agreed to a minor league contract with the Twins on Tuesday after getting cut from the 40-man roster, fulfilling a promise to re-sign with the club despite fielding multiple offers from competing teams. The deal included an invite to spring training, and comments from his agent suggested that the right-hander was “super confident” he’d break through to the major leagues in 2017, notwithstanding a troublesome shoulder injury that hampered his progress in High-A Fort Myers during the 2016 season.
“He never wanted to leave,” Szew told Berardino. “It was the only organization he ever knew.”
Our condolences go out to Landa’s family and the Twins organization during this terrible time.