When Aug. 31 feels like July 31 ...
Wow, what a crazy day. The Angels acquired Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips to boost their offense, the Rangers acquired Miguel Gonzalez and the Cubs picked up Leonys Martin. But the blockbuster was the deal that didn't happen ... and then did!
Initial reports late in the evening were that the Detroit Tigers had agreed to trade Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros, only to have Verlander veto the trade. Then follow-up reports said it wasn't clear whether the deal had simply fallen apart or Verlander had nixed it, per his rights as a 10-and-5 guy (10 years in the majors, the last five with the same team). Then, about 18 minutes after the midnight deadline, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reported there was a deal. And so there was.
The Astros needed Verlander. Lance McCullers Jr. is still on the disabled list with back soreness and Dallas Keuchel has a 5.35 ERA in seven starts since returning from his own DL stint. The rotation also has struggled in the second half with a 4.79 ERA. Compare the first half to the second half:
ERA: First in American League to eighth
Batting average: First to fifth
OPS allowed: First to fifth
Verlander, meanwhile, after a sluggish start, has a 3.24 ERA since May 30 and a 2.41 ERA in the second half. Since the All-Star break, he ranks third in the AL in ERA, second in WHIP, second in batting average, fourth in OPS allowed and fifth in K's per nine. Maybe he's not vintage Cy Young Verlander, but he has been pretty close to that of late. Given the status of Keuchel and McCullers, Verlander looks like the likely No. 1 starter in the postseason. If there's a concern, it's that Verlander does have a large home/road split, pitching much better in Detroit, and he has struggled against the four other teams currently in a playoff position (1-4, 6.16 ERA in seven starts).
Still, the postseason keeps getting better and better. Given the unfathomable damage Hurricane Harvey has caused in Houston, the Astros will become America's Team as they go for their first World Series title, a rallying cry for the city and symbol of hope, much like the Yankees in 2001 after 9/11 and the Red Sox in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombing. The Astros will be on a mission to win for the people of Houston and adding a big star like Verlander just makes them that much more interesting. Given the other stories we'll see -- the dominant Dodgers, the powerful Nationals, the Cubs trying to go back-to-back (most likely, as the Brewers are hanging around), the Indians trying to win their first title since 1948 -- this could be one of the best postseasons ever.
As for the Tigers, they received a solid package: left-hander Franklin Perez (No. 43 on Keith Law's midseason top 50 list), toolsy outfielder Daz Cameron (great the past two months in low-A) and catcher Jake Rogers. Given Verlander's contract -- he's owed $56 million the next two seasons -- getting three solid prospects is a nice return. Yes, prospect are prospects, but the Verlander-Miguel Cabrera era was clearly over and the Tigers needed to begin the overhaul. This is a start, but it's going to be a long process before the Tigers contend again.
the si jinx is dead forever if this actually happens pic.twitter.com/cXy8yNIC1Z— Jesse Spector 📎 (@jessespector) September 1, 2017
Angels add offense: The other big winner of the day was the Angels and GM Billy Eppler in acquiring Upton and Phillips. Angels left fielders ranked 28th in the majors in wOBA and their second basemen ranked last. Assuming those two perform well in September, they could be worth a combined two or three wins, and in the tight AL wild-card race, that could be the difference between making the playoffs and not making it. Of course, you also can argue this: Why didn't the Angels make these deals a month ago? They haven't had a second baseman all season.
Diamondbacks sweep the Dodgers: The Dodgers have lost five in a row, all but ending their chance to break the single-season wins record, but I wouldn't read too much into that: Losing streaks happen, even to great teams. Plus, Clayton Kershaw returns Friday.
What I would read into this series is that the Diamondbacks, if they end up facing the Dodgers in the division series, can definitely pull off the upset. The two teams have split the season series so far at 8-8 and the Diamondbacks have actually outscored the Dodgers 80-69. Zack Greinke became the first pitcher to 16 wins in the 8-1 victory on Thursday and Paul Goldschmidt went 2-for-4 with two doubles and his 108th and 109th RBIs. They have the star power to make an impact in October. (They also could lose the coin-flip game and be done after one game.)
Joey Votto is a national treasure: And since he's Canadian, he's a national treasure for two countries. Votto hit his 34th home run in the Reds' 7-2 victory over the Mets, but it's what he did after the home run that makes it a little dusty in the home office:
The world needs more people like Joey Votto. pic.twitter.com/3wg2l4Ob8h— MLB (@MLB) August 31, 2017
By the way, should Votto be part of the MVP discussion? Absolutely. Does he have a chance to win? Nope. Players on teams as bad as the Reds don't win MVP awards. Heck, players on non-playoff teams rarely win, which is why Giancarlo Stanton is hardly a lock even if he reaches 60 home runs.
Juan Nicasio update: So, I ripped the Pirates yesterday for placing Nicasio on irrevocable waivers. On the surface, it appeared the team wanted to save $600,000 in remaining salary. General manager Neal Huntington finally explained the club's rationale. Here's a tweet from Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with Huntington's complete statement. An excerpt:
"Rather than help a direct competitor and recognizing the difference in claiming order between trade and outright waivers, we chose to take the chance to see if by placing Juan on outright waivers he would end up with a different playoff contender, preferably one in the American League," he said.
Basically, it sounds like a team -- I'm guessing the Cubs -- made a claim on Nicasio's original waivers, but only to block him from going anywhere else. The Pirates didn't want to accept a low-ball trade offer and let him go to a rival, so they just decided to instead let Nicasio go on outright waivers.
The weird thing: The Phillies claimed him on Thursday. What are the Phillies going to do with him, since he's a free agent after the season? Unless they were hoping to immediately turn around and trade him. Or maybe they want to try to sign him for 2018. Or something. Anyway, I guess I'll buy Huntington's explanation, except ... if you didn't want him going to the Cubs and $600,000 doesn't really matter, why not just keep him?
Because in the end the Pirates still saved $600,000.
Tweet of the day: Bartolo Colon is the best ever:
my biggest takeaway from this Bartolo graphic from today's game is that his previous 10 teams were clearly not asking the right questions pic.twitter.com/Ucsp2XZm01— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) September 1, 2017
By the way, the Twins won the game, beating the White Sox 5-4 with two runs in the bottom of the ninth as the winning run scored when Max Kepler was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and two outs. Colon is 4-2 with a 4.09 ERA in nine starts with the Twins, although he really hasn't pitched that well: 71 hits and 11 home runs in 55 innings. He has avoided the three-run homer, however, and has now gone at least six innings in six of his past seven outings. He has helped save the bullpen a little and, compared to what the Twins had been getting from the back of the rotation, he has been an improvement.