Liriano, Balfour can make an All-Star case

Francisco Liriano may not be quite good enough to start the All-Star Game, but he’s had a heck of a good first season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And Grant Balfour might not be the AL’s All-Star closer, but he’s a strong candidate to hear his name called when rosters are announced on Saturday.

Each did something of prominence on Friday. Let’s review.

Liriano’s Gem

Liriano's slider was a major key to his second career complete game, the first since his no-hitter in 2011.

He threw 51 of them in Friday’s win over the Cubs, his most in any start in the last five seasons.

Liriano got 12 swings-and-misses with the pitch, which accounted for five of his seven strikeouts. His 52 strikeouts with his slider this season are third-most in the National League.

Liriano vs Kershaw
2013 Season

Liriano has found the Cubs to his liking. He’s 3-0 with an 0.78 ERA in three starts against them this season.

The win dipped his ERA for the season to 2.20, and though he’s only made 11 starts after missing the first month of the season due to injury, he’s made a legit case to be an All-Star.

Liriano hasn’t quite pitched to the level of a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw, but he’s been only a notch below in a number of areas, as you can see in the chart on the right.

Should Liriano or his teammate Jeff Locke make the team and pitch in the game, they’d be the first Pirates starting pitcher to pitch in an All-Star Game since Denny Neagle in 1995.

Balfour’s finish

It was a two-out save, certainly an easier one than most, but nonetheless a significant one from the perspective of those who close games.

Grant BalfourBalfourBalfour tied Dennis Eckersley’s franchise record with his 40th straight save conversion in the Oakland Athletics’ 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.

He’s 22-for-22 in save chances this season and in a year in which Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney have had their struggles, Balfour can make a decent case for being in the upper tier of AL closers with Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan.

Balfour isn’t as perfect as his saves mark would indicate. He issues walks (3.4 per 9 innings) and allows home runs (four in 34 2/3 innings) at rates that are a little high.

But he’s been the master of getting out of trouble. Opponents are 7-for-55 against him with men on base.

Balfour’s money pitch this season has been his breaking ball. He’s allowed only three hits and one walk while netting 39 outs with those pitches, including the two that closed Friday’s game.

Opponents have missed on nearly 46 percent of their swings against the pitches judged to be his curves and sliders. That’s the third-highest rate among AL relievers trailing only Al Alburquerque and Brett Cecil.