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Upton gives Angels another clutch-spot threat

MLB.com

It's time to come right out and say it: The second American League Wild Card spot has created two Trade Deadlines, with a capital "T" and "D."

The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline was only the beginning of the wheeling and dealing between front offices, as we've seen a host of postseason contenders go all in with additional moves since then.

It's time to come right out and say it: The second American League Wild Card spot has created two Trade Deadlines, with a capital "T" and "D."

The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline was only the beginning of the wheeling and dealing between front offices, as we've seen a host of postseason contenders go all in with additional moves since then.

The Dodgers, who might have already boasted the Majors' deepest roster, added Curtis Granderson to combat right-handed pitching. The Indians picked up Jay Bruce, who began carrying the Tribe's offense almost immediately upon arrival. The Astros (Tyler Clippard), Brewers (Neil Walker) and Mariners (Mike Leake) all picked up veterans they hoped would be the missing piece. And now the Angels have added one of the Majors' best run producers in one fell swoop.

• Up-to-the-minute Wild Card standings

The Angels' acquisition of Justin Upton and cash considerations on Thursday, which came in exchange for right-hander Grayson Long and a player to be named or cash, came as a surprise to most -- but perhaps it shouldn't have. Upton clearly saw the aging Tigers loading up for a rebuild, and the dominoes fell quickly once he informed Detroit he would likely opt out of his contract this offseason.

The Angels, to their credit, saw the AL Wild Card picture breaking their way and decided to capitalize. When play ended on July 31, the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Halos were languishing with a 51-55 record, five games out of the last AL Wild Card spot and stuck behind four other teams.

But an 18-10 run now has the Angels in the on-deck circle, just 1 1/2 games back of the Twins for the AL's final postseason slot. The Halos' lineup, among the game's most tepid for much of the season, now boasts a player capable of carrying a team through October in Mike Trout, a slugger aching for one more title in Albert Pujols and one of the game's hottest run producers in Upton.

Video: Upton talks about playing with Pujols, Trout

Upton's performance has been slightly overlooked during the Tigers' fade from contention, but it's worth noting, especially now that we might see him in October. The 11-year veteran has never posted a higher slugging percentage (.542) or OPS (.904) than he has right now, and with 94 RBIs, he's on pace to shatter the career-high 102 RBIs he recorded with the Braves in 2014.

Simply put, Upton has been money in run-producing situations: Entering Thursday, Upton's 1.218 OPS with runners in scoring position ranked second only to Nolan Arenado (1.277) among nearly 100 MLB hitters (minimum 100 at-bats).

Statcast™ metrics back up that astronomical figure, too. Barrels and solid contact are Statcast™'s two most productive batted-ball categories for hitters, and big leaguers were hitting a combined .687 and slugging 2.124 on those two types of contact entering Thursday. They're the two best things a hitter can do, and almost no one has been hitting them more consistently with runners on base than Upton lately.

Tweet from @mattkellyMLB: Justin Upton: 2nd-best barrels+solid contact % w/ runners on base in 2nd half. 9th-best % overall since ASG. https://t.co/oNCpPA43FR #Angels

Want clutch hits? Upton has those, too, having already smashed two walk-off homers for Detroit, along with three others that tied a game and 10 more that put his team ahead.

Video: CWS@DET: Statcast™ measures Upton's 421-ft. walk-off

Upton is owed a substantial $22.125 million each year through 2021. It remains to be seen if he'll opt out of his deal this offseason and whether the Angels would try to keep him. We still don't even know if the Angels will get in to the postseason, but full credit goes to general manager Billy Eppler and the rest of the club's front office for putting their best foot forward. Los Angeles' offense, which has produced the fourth-fewest runs in the AL, could suddenly be a nightmare for an opposing starter thanks to Trout, Pujols and Upton looming in the heart of the order. Anything is possible in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, after all, and the Angels are signaling to the rest of the Junior Circuit that they're going for it.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Los Angeles Angels, Justin Upton