ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels have made the playoffs only once since Mike Trout and Albert Pujols joined their lineup six seasons ago. They’ve got another chance this September, and their superstars are getting some big-time help in that push toward October.
The Angels acquired outfielder Justin Upton from Detroit and infielder Brandon Phillips from Atlanta on Thursday, adding two veterans with seven combined All-Star selections to their lineup. Los Angeles addressed the two biggest problem areas in their lineup with fairly low-risk moves that could lead to big rewards.
“We’re in such congestion around this wild card, and the games are dwindling down for everybody,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “There’s some schedule running out. To be able to bring (players with) this impact in, we just needed to take full advantage of that.”
The Angels (69-65) are 1 1/2 games out of a playoff spot despite several major injuries to their pitching staff and one of the AL’s least prolific lineups. Los Angeles trails Minnesota (70-63) in the race for the second AL wild card spot, and the Yankees (71-62) are just 2 1/2 games ahead.
The Angels have showed remarkable resilience and grit while going 20-11 since July 28, leading Eppler and owner Arte Moreno to decide to go wholeheartedly after the club’s second playoff appearance since 2009.
After staying fairly inactive at the non-waiver trade deadline, the Angels swooped into the market on the final day for trades to be consummated in order for the players to be eligible for the postseason.
“This team showed a lot of fight over the course of the year, and what we were starting to see — to use a metaphor, the punches were getting stronger,” Eppler said. “The guys were hitting harder. Their play warranted a continued investment in this club, which we were able to do when Arte gave us the green light.”
Upton and Phillips are proven veteran performers in the midst of strong seasons. Neither has appeared in the postseason since 2013, and they’re both eager to play in the World Series for the first time.
The 30-year-old Upton was an All-Star this season with the struggling Tigers, batting .279 with 28 homers and 94 RBIs. The Angels were eager to add a middle-of-the-order hitter to a lineup sitting 12th in the league in runs (584) and 15th in OPS (.713)
“What I’m excited about is being back into playoff contention and trying to help the Angels get to where they want to go,” Upton said. “I think I can be a piece that helps that.”
Left field has been a problematic spot for the Angels for several years, with oft-injured Josh Hamilton leading a long list of players who couldn’t produce at the position. The long-gone Hamilton’s five-year, $125 million contract finally comes off the Angels’ books this winter, freeing their payroll to absorb the rest of Upton’s contract if he doesn’t opt out of the final four seasons of his six-year, $132.75 million deal.
The Angels allowed light-hitting outfielder Cameron Maybin to leave for Houston on a waiver claim, clearing the way for Upton to take over in left field. The position has been problematic for Los Angeles for several years, with $125 million bust Josh Hamilton leading the list of players who didn’t produce at the position.
Second base has been the Angels’ other big problem, and the 36-year-old Phillips should be an immediate upgrade. The four-time Gold Glove winner was in his first season with Atlanta, which acquired him in the offseason after 11 productive years in Cincinnati.
Phillips is batting .291 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs. He has a .752 OPS — much higher than the majors-worst combined .589 OPS by the Angels’ second basemen this season.
“The dream is to get a (World Series) ring, and that’s what I have a chance of really doing right now,” Phillips said. “I hope that I can help the team out.”
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