Astros, Mariners pull off trade while facing one another

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SEATTLE — The Houston Astros have landed one of the top relievers in baseball, acquiring right-hander Kendall Graveman from the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday in an odd intra-division trade while the teams were preparing to play each other.

Graveman and Rafael Montero are going to the AL West-leading Astros with infielder Abraham Toro and reliever Joe Smith going back to Seattle.

“We are always looking to improve all aspects of the roster,” Astros general manager James Click said. “This one happens to be focused on the bullpen. But we’re not going to take any options off the table when it comes to trying to put ourselves in a position to compete for a World Series.”

The move bolsters a Houston bullpen that has struggled at times and has an ERA above 4.00 this season.

Graveman is 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 10 saves in 30 appearances this year. He missed nearly a month due to COVID-19 protocols in May and June but has been dominant on the mound. Graveman has not allowed an earned run in his past 12 appearances.

Montero was designated for assignment by the Mariners last week after being acquired in the offseason from Texas.

Houston manager Dusty Baker said for now he views Ryan Pressly as his closer, but wouldn’t hesitate turning to Graveman.

“In modern times it seems like most teams are trading to try to win the deal, but this is a trade that is going to benefit both,” Baker said.

Whether it benefits the Mariners remains to be sense. On the surface it’s appears a baffling decision by Seattle to give up its most dominant reliever while failing to fill a position of need with the Mariners just one game behind Oakland in the AL wild-card race – the Astros led the A’s by five games.

But general manager Jerry Dipoto said it’s likely the first of several moves the Mariners will make in the coming days with the hope of improving the big league club.

Toro is in his third season and has played primarily third base, where the Mariners have veteran Kyle Seager entrenched. Toro has also played first base and has one game at second base this season, a position where the Mariners could be looking to upgrade before the trade deadline.

Toro is hitting .211 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 35 games this season.

Smith has a career-worst 7.48 ERA in 27 games for the Astros after not pitching during the 2020 season.

Blue Jays clinch playoff berth with Orioles’ loss to Red Sox

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TORONTO — The Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth Thursday without taking the field.

Toronto was assured of an AL wild card berth when the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

If Toronto holds its current position as the first of the AL’s three wild cards, the Blue Jays would open a best-of-three wild-card series at Rogers Centre next week.

“These guys are excited to be in this position,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. “You’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, playing at home. So I think it’s more excitement more than it’s nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night.”

Toronto became the fourth AL team to clinch a playoff berth, joining division champions Houston, the Yankees and Cleveland. The Astros and Yankees have first-round byes.

The Blue Jays last went to the playoffs in 2020, when they were knocked out with two straight losses to Tampa Bay.

Eight of the 12 berths in the expanded postseason have been clinched: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis earned division titles, and Atlanta and the New York Mets are assured no worse the wild cards while still competing to win the NL East. The Dodgers have a first-round bye.