Grant Balfour needs knee surgery, out 4-6 weeks

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How quickly spring training shifts from the “Best Shape of His Life” stage to the “Players Being Injured” stage.

A’s closer Grant Balfour will miss 4-6 weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, which apparently bothered him at the end of last season and then continued to be an issue when he started throwing this week.

Balfour might have time to be ready for Opening Day and if not he shouldn’t miss many games. Oakland has good bullpen depth anyway, with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle as the most likely fill-in closers.

Balfour came into last season with just 10 career saves through age 33, but saved 24 games with a 2.53 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 75 innings. Dating back to 2008 he has a 2.78 ERA in 318 innings while holding opponents to a .191 batting average.

Video: Dexter Fowler robs Asdrúbal Cabrera of three-run homer

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Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler made a critical catch in the eighth inning of Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Nationals. With the Cardinals leading 5-1, the Nationals were threatening with runners on first and second with one out against lefty Andrew Miller. Asdrúbal Cabrera worked a full count before serving a 3-2 outside slider to right field. The ball had home run distance, but Fowler tracked it, leaped at the wall, and robbed Cabrera of a three-run home run.

Carlos Martínez relieved Miller, getting Victor Robles to ground out to end the inning. The Cardinals would go on to win 5-1.

The game had playoff implications on both sides. The win bumped the Cardinals’ hold on first place in the NL Central to 2.5 games while the Nationals’ lead over the Cubs and Brewers for the first NL Wild Card shrinks to just one game.

The Nationals will close out their final road trip of the regular season with three games against the Marlins before hosting the Phillies for five games and the Indians for three. The Cardinals, meanwhile, begin their final road trip of the regular season with four against the Cubs followed by three against the Diamondbacks before closing out the season at home with three games versus the Cubs.