Despite their ongoing issues with the closer position, the Oakland Athletics (11-5) are currently leading the AL West with the best record in the American League and the second best in all of baseball. Their hot start can be attributed to their outstanding pitching, but the same can be said for their handful of losses.
What if the Athletics had a trustworthy ninth inning staple, ready to come in and shut the door with authority? What if their $10 million man Jim Johnson came out of the gate in dominant fashion? Well, the Athletics would be exactly where they are now, sitting atop of their division. But in a tight American League West, letting those few extra wins slip away could be what makes or breaks a third straight division crown.
The “closer by committee” approach, headed mainly by Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson, can only lead this ball club so far. At some point they need an identity. They need a recognizable face that represents the sealing of his opponents doom. They need a, sorry A’s fans, Grant Balfour to get the crowd rocking. The problem is, Balfour is gone, Johnson is here to stay – maybe – and he has already fallen out of favor with the Coliseum crowd.
What now for the Green and Gold? Continue to go with match ups in the ninth? Just roll the dice with whoever is hot? Both are valid options – for now. The Athletics bullpen is still among the top of the league in its dominance and their pitching staff as a whole ranks second in the majors with a 2.57 ERA and first with a batting average against of .211. Stunning numbers even with the unexpected injuries to starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin as well as the imploding of Jim Johnson.
Successfully battling through a little adversity is great for team chemistry, but the “closer by committee” approach is only going to hurt the club in the long run, ultimately hanging coach Bob Melvin out to dry. Melvin has already taken flak from his late inning bullpen decisions, especially in the postseason, and this can’t end well for him.
A closer is supposed to be the one who takes and withstands both the brunt as well as the glory of the ninth inning outcome. That’s what separates the rocks from the marshmallows. That’s what wins the crowd over. That’s why the Oakland Coliseum could not wait to unleash their “Balfour Rage” in the bottom of the ninth. Balfour, like the city of Oakland, is simply not fazed by anything.
It’s time for Jim Johnson to release his own rage and show that he is in fact the new man to decide his opponent’s fate. It’s a long season and much can and will happen between now and September. There is a lot of time for Johnson to redeem himself of his 11 hits, and seven earned runs given up over just 8.1 innings pitched. His 7.56 ERA can only go down from here – hopefully.
Johnson will get another opportunity to shine, and it’s what he makes of it that will ultimately decide the fate of the Oakland Athletics.
Commentary by Rich Peters
Guardian Liberty Voice Writer for the Oakland Athletics