Dan's Dugout: Astros, Angels Beef Up for Playoff Drive • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Astros, Angels Beef Up for Playoff Drive

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With just a minute to go before rosters were frozen, the Houston Astros pulled the trigger on a deal that could keep them at the top of their division not only this year but for two more.

Justin Verlander heads for Houston

Justin Verlander heads for Houston

They landed Justin Verlander, longtime anchor of the Detroit Tigers rotation, for three top prospects, $16 million to defray the pitcher’s enormous contract, and either a player to be named later or salary considerations.

The deal gives the Astros two former Cy Young Award winners as they head for the best-of-five American League Division Series next month.

Dallas Keuchel, who won the National League’s Cy Young two years ago, will form a formidable left-right punch with Verlander at the top of the Houston rotation, with Lance McCullers Jr. completing a solid Big Three. Playoff teams don’t need a fourth starter, especially in the first round.

Houston, which also added veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin on a waiver claim from the Los Angeles Angels, built a huge lead in the AL West during the first half but struggled more recently when its top starters suffered a series of injuries.

The 34-year-old Verlander, who had spent his entire career with Detroit, should relieve the pressure on the rotation as the Astros try to reach the World Series for the second time. They have never won it.

They did win the day at the waiver deadline, however. In addition to Verlander and Maybin, they also landed Kate Upton, the gorgeous super-model who’s dating the star pitcher.

Kate Upton is part of the Justin Verlander package

Kate Upton is part of the Justin Verlander package

Another Upton also changed addresses before the stroke of midnight Thursday. Justin Upton, in the first year of a Tiger contract that pays him more than $22 million per annum over six seasons, went to the Los Angeles Angels for two minor-leaguers. After struggling early this year, Upton had been hitting well lately, with 41 home runs over his past 631 plate appearances.

With an AL wild-card berth within their grasp, the Angels also acquired another solid bat in versatile veteran Brandon Phillips. He fared well in his first year with the hometown Atlanta Braves, who needed a catcher after Tyler Flowers suffered a hand injury this week.

Along with shortstop Andrelton Simmons, enjoying a career year in Anaheim, and Upton, who could reach 40 home runs for the first time, Phillips is the third former Brave to wear a halo.

Brandon Phillips is an Atlanta native who is now an Angel

Brandon Phillips is an Atlanta native who is now an Angel

He’ll return to second base, where he won three previous Gold Gloves, and team with Simmons in a solid double-play combination that will tighten the defense and bolster the offense.

If Mike Trout and Albert Pujols stay healthy during the final months, the Angels might have enough offense to out-slug their opponents deep into the playoffs.

That could set the stage for the first Los Angeles World Series, since the Dodgers remain more than 50 games over .500 even after losing five straight games through Thursday.

Another club with World Series aspirations is the Chicago Cubs, seeking to defend a 2016 title that was their first in 108 years. Currently widening the lead in the National League Central, the Cubs – never content to rest on their laurels – added slick-fielding centerfielder Leonys Martin in a late waiver claim from the Seattle Mariners.

The Texas Rangers, never known to concede, also made an 11th-hour move, landing pitcher Miguel Gonzalez from the rebuilding Chicago White Sox. The 33-year-old sinkerballer had spent the last four seasons on the South Side after pitching previously for the Baltimore Orioles.

Although the flurry of waiver trades was expected, the virtual silence of both New York teams was surprising. The Yanks made a minor move, adding former Phillies catcher Erik Kratz via a waiver claim from Cleveland, but did not make their usual splash.

Neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees made late waiver trades

Neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees made late waiver trades

The Yankees, locked in an important home series against the front-running Boston Red Sox in the AL East, need more pitching while the Mets, hoping to avoid being the National League’s Least of the East, had hoped to move Asdrubal Cabrera as the last piece in their bid to cut age and payroll.

The hottest team in the majors, the Baltimore Orioles, extended their winning streak to eight before the deadline but passed on the price it would have taken to lure Gonzalez back. Nor did the O’s pay much attention to multiple bids for lefthanded closer Zach Britton, who failed to repeat his historic 2016 season.

The good news for Oriole fans is that Britton will be in the bullpen if the team reaches the wild-card game. Manager Buck Showalter was widely criticized for leaving him in the pen last year when that game was tied in extra innings. Starter Ubaldo Jiminez, working in an unfamiliar relief role, lost the game and the Birds went home with their heads tucked under their feathers.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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