A's Balfour, Donaldson worthy of All-Star nods 

click to enlarge A's closer Grant Balfour has converted every save opportunity this season, but is still without a spot on the AL All-Star squad.
  • A's closer Grant Balfour has converted every save opportunity this season, but is still without a spot on the AL All-Star squad.

Apparently, winning games isn't enough to earn invitations to baseball's Mid-Summer Classic. The club with the highest winning percentage in baseball over the last calendar year is sending only one All-Star to New York next week.

Since July 8, 2012, the A's are 103-62 (.624), but when the American League All-Stars are announced at Citi Field on July 16, Bartolo Colon will be the only player tipping a green and yellow hat.

In some respects, this is fitting. The A's identity is centered on the idea that no player is bigger than the team. They're a group of scrappy no-namers who do whatever it takes to win.

But this irony doesn't negate the absurdity of snubbing Josh Donaldson and Grant Balfour.

Let's start with Balfour: The Aussie spitfire pitched a perfect first half and his name is appearing in print next to the master of his position on a near-daily basis right now.

Balfour is 22-for-22 in save opportunities this season and he successfully closed out his last 18 chances in 2012. If he converts his next opportunity, he'll break Dennis Eckersley's club record of 40-straight saves set during his MVP season in 1992.

Can you put together a better half of baseball from out of the bullpen?

Apparently, AL manager Jim Leyland and the rest of the league's players aren't impressed. Rather than giving Balfour the nod, they chose Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Glen Perkins and Brett Cecil to be relievers.

Rivera deserves his spot (29-of-31, 1.89 ERA) and so does Nathan (30-of-31, 1.40 ERA). Choosing Perkins over Balfour doesn't make sense, though. The Twins closer has recorded less saves (20), he's blown two opportunities and he plays for a sub-.500 team.

To make matters more confusing, Balfour was overlooked in favor of two set-up guys, Cecil and Crain, who pitch for last-place teams.

The exclusion of the A's most reliable hitter is an even bigger curveball, though.

To be fair, third base is a deep position in the AL with Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado, Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre. But rather than taking three third basemen, Leyland opted for depth at second base, choosing Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians.

Kipnis' numbers are respectable (.296, 15 home runs, .903 OPS), but Donaldson is fourth in hitting (.319), fifth in OPS (.924), sixth in WAR (4.0) and seventh in RBIs (57). He's carried the A's offensive load despite Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss' struggles this year.

Without Donaldson, the A's wouldn't be sitting in the AL West penthouse right now, which leads us back to the initial question: shouldn't the top players on the best teams be All-Stars?

The A's are the second-best team in the AL right now, but the Twins, Royals, Blue Jays and Mariners all have losing records and landed more spots on the roster.

Leyland can still make right with the A's when he chooses his injury replacements and it might work to his benefit. His team is in a good position to return to the World Series this year and home-field advantage will be on the line in New York.

Why not pick the guys who have proved they know how to win?

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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Paul Gackle

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