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The Angels sent shockwaves throughout the entire baseball landscape on Thursday afternoon by designating first baseman Albert Pujols for assignment. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer was just 29 games into the final season of a 10-year, $253 million deal. He’s a living legend, and an invaluable clubhouse presence, but he’s also been a sub-replacement level hitter for the last few seasons. That includes the first five weeks of the 2021 campaign in which he’s compiled a lackluster 198/.250/.372 triple-slash line with five homers through 92 plate appearances this season.
While the timing of the decision to jettison Pujols may seem surprising, Angels GM Perry Minasian said Thursday just hours after the move was announced, that there had been internal discussions within the front office regarding whether to move on from the veteran first baseman over the last two weeks. He also added that Pujols wants to continue his playing career as an everyday first baseman, not a part-time bench player. Minasian also elaborated that the move was ultimately driven by the emergence of Jared Walsh as an everyday first baseman and two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani -- who launched his major league-leading 10th homer of the season in the Angels’ loss to the Rays on Thursday evening -- occupying the team's designated hitter role on a daily basis, more than anything else.
At 41-years-old, Pujols wants to continue his legendary career. However, it's unclear whether there will be any interest from teams once he hits the open market next week, assuming he passes through waivers unclaimed. If this is the end of his storied career, Pujols would finish with a .298/.376/.545 triple-slash line with 3,253 hits, 667 home runs and 2,112 RBI across 12,486 plate appearances in 2,886 games over 21 seasons, dating back to 2001. He spent the first 11 seasons of his career in St. Louis, where he helped lead the Cardinals to a pair of World Series titles and was arguably the best hitter of his entire generation. He failed to live up to the lofty expectations his massive contract with the Angels generated, hitting .256/.311/.447 over a decade in Los Angeles. He’s one of only three players in major-league history to record at least 3,200 hits and 600 home runs.
Buxton Dealing With Hip Strain
Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is considered day-to-day with a strained hip after exiting Thursday's extra-inning loss to the Rangers. The dynamic 27-year-old slugger was forced to pull up while attempting to beat out an infield grounder in the ninth inning, and was replaced by Jake Cave in center field as the contest went to extra innings. He’s dealt with numerous minor injuries throughout the opening five weeks of the 2021 campaign, including a lingering hamstring strain, but has managed to stay in the Twins' lineup despite those ongoing issues. He's evolved into a true five-category fantasy superstar, hitting .370/.408/.772 with 19 runs scored, nine homers, 17 RBI and five stolen bases across 98 plate appearances. It seems like he's avoided serious injury, but it's unclear whether he'll be ready to go on Friday when the Twins open up a three-game series against the rebuilding Tigers. It’s a situation fantasy managers should be monitoring closely over the next few days.
Starting Pitchers with an EDGE
Zack Wheeler vs. Brewers
9.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
27% CSW, 16 swinging strikes
Brandon Woodruff vs. Phillies
6.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 11 K
35% CSW, 23 swinging strikes
Wheeler and Woodruff locked horns in a brilliant pitchers’ duel on Thursday afternoon, which was eventually won by the Phillies’ righty who registered eight strikeouts in a brilliant three-hit, complete-game shutout. Woodruff wasn’t able to go the distance as well, but he racked up a season-high 11 strikeouts, generated an absurd 23 swinging strikes, and notched his sixth consecutive quality start to open the 2021 campaign. Wheeler will square off against the division-rival Nationals on Wednesday, while Woodruff will look to keep the momentum going against the Cardinals at home that same day.
Madison Bumgarner vs. Marlins
6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
29% CSW, 15 swinging strikes
Bumgarner served up a leadoff homer to Miguel Rojas, but went on to retire 17 consecutive batters before Rojas also slapped a two-out single in the sixth inning. The 31-year-old veteran left-hander generated a season-high 15 swinging strikes and finished with a 29 percent CSW (called strikes plus whiffs). He's allowed one earned run or fewer in four consecutive starts since April 18. He'll carry a 4.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 40/10 K/BB ratio across 36 2/3 innings (seven starts) into a rematch against the Marlins on Tuesday.
Andrew Heaney vs. Rays
6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
36% CSW, 18 swinging strikes
Heaney delivered a brilliant performance, recording his second double-digit strikeout effort while also generating a season-high 18 swinging strikes and finishing with an elite 36 percent CSW (called strikes plus whiffs). The 29-year-old southpaw scattered four hits and one walk in a stellar bounce-back performance after lasting just 3 1/3 innings against the Mariners his last time out. He'll carry a 4.11 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 44/10 K/BB ratio across 30 2/3 innings (six starts) into a road tilt against the Astros on Wednesday.
Taijuan Walker vs. Cardinals
7.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
27% CSW, 10 swinging strikes
Walker struck out the side in the opening frame and allowed just one run (zero earned) on one hit over seven brilliant innings. He wasn’t nearly as overpowering as some of the other notable pitching performances from Thursday’s abbreviated slate, as evidenced by only 10 swinging strikes and a 27 percent CSW. However, if you find a way to limit the opposition to one hit and post seven zeroes on the scoreboard, fantasy managers will gladly accept that kind of production every single time. He’s in line for a tasty matchup against the Orioles at home on Wednesday.
Hitters with an EDGE
Giancarlo Stanton vs. Astros
1-for-4, R, HR, RBI
Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters prior to Thursday’s game that he plans to keep Stanton in the second spot in the team’s lineup moving forward, which is probably a good idea since he’s been carrying the franchise on his back in recent weeks. The 31-year-old slugger has homered in three consecutive games and also extended his hitting streak to 12-games. He’s recorded an extra-terrestrial 43 batted balls with an exit velocity in excess of 100 mph through 27 games this season.
Yordan Alvarez vs. Yankees
3-for-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI
Alvarez crushed a pair of homers off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole on Thursday afternoon and is now up to five round-trippers on the season. He’s the first hitter to record a multi-homer effort against Cole since the 2017 campaign. The 23-year-old offensive force owns a sublime .337/.376/.609 triple-slash line with 17 runs scored, five homers and 17 RBI across 101 plate appearances.
Marcus Semien vs. Athletics
4-for-6, 3 R, HR, RBI
Semien made the most of his return to the Bay Area, collecting a season-high four hits in the series finale on Thursday afternoon. The 30-year-old second baseman has put together an uninspiring .254/.326/.458 triple-slash line across 132 plate appearances, but he’s showcased an impressive blend of power and speed, walloping seven homers and swiping six bases already this season.
Jose Altuve vs. Yankees
2-for-5, R, HR, 3 RBI
The Yankees faithful dished it out relentlessly over the course of the highly-anticipated three-game series, but Altuve delivered the crushing blow in Thursday’s finale, launching a go-ahead, three-run homer off Chad Green in the eighth inning. The 31-year-old second baseman hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball this season, but there’s a chance that an emotional moment during a comeback victory will be enough to get him going again.
Jeimer Candelario vs. Red Sox
3-for-5, 2 R, RBI
The Tigers’ offensive woes have been well-documented this season, but Candelario has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2021 campaign so far. The 27-year-old third baseman has been sizzling-hot at the plate recently, recording three-hit efforts in three of his last five games. He’s proven that last season’s offensive breakthrough wasn’t a mirage, slashing .298/.356/.413 with 16 runs scored, three homers and 12 RBI in 132 plate appearances.
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Yimi García tossed a scoreless inning on Thursday, protecting a two-run lead against the Diamondbacks to notch his fifth save of the season. He’s five-for-six in save opportunities and bounced back in an impressive fashion after an ugly blown save on Friday against the Nationals his last time out. The 30-year-old righty owns a 2.03 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 11/3 K/BB ratio over 13 1/3 innings this season. He appears to be the primary closer for the Marlins moving forward and should be rostered in deeper mixed leagues.
Will Smith tossed a scoreless ninth inning on Thursday, protecting a one-run lead against the Nationals to collect his seventh save of the season. The 31-year-old left-hander didn't make this one easy, at all. He served up a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman, which put the tying run in scoring position. Yet, he managed to settle down, retiring three consecutive Nationals' batters to extinguish the threat and ice the narrow victory. He owns a 2.77 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 17/7 K/BB ratio over 13 innings this season.
Ryan Pressly allowed one run, thanks to heads-up baserunning from Gleyber Torres on an Astros’ defensive shift, but still managed to secure a six-out save against the Yankees on Thursday. The 32-year-old righty recorded a pair of strikeouts and had little trouble preserving a three-run advantage over the final two frames. He’s a perfect five-for-five in save opportunities this season.
Edwin Díaz scattered a pair of hits over a scoreless ninth inning on Thursday, slamming the door on the Cardinals to secure his fourth save of the year. It was his first appearance in nearly a week due to back tightness. The hard-throwing 27-year-old righty has dealt with his fair share of uneven performances, including a disastrous outing against the Phillies over the weekend, but was sharp in this one. He’s one of the best in the game when he’s truly locked in.
Adam Ottavino hurled a scoreless inning against the Tigers on Thursday to pick up his first save of the season. The Red Sox didn’t want to go back to primary stopper Matt Barnes, who had pitched three times in the last four days, so the 35-year-old sidewinder got the call to slam the door in the offensive slugfest. He’ll vulture the occasional save chance, but Barnes is the undisputed closer in Boston moving forward.
With veteran stopper Ian Kennedy presumably unavailable on Thursday after pitching three of the last four days, Josh Sborz was summoned to protect a one-run lead in the 10th inning against the Twins. The 27-year-old righty recorded a pair of strikeouts en route to his first career save at the major-league level.
EDGE Priority Pickup
Pavin Smith, OF, Diamondbacks
(Available in 87 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues)
The Smith hype train hasn’t quite left the station just yet, but if he keeps making hard contact, it’s only a matter of time before savvy fantasy managers get onboard this runaway freight train. The 25-year-old burgeoning slugger tallied three hits and also plated the Diamondbacks' lone run of Thursday’s low-scoring contest against the Marlins with an RBI double to center field against Pablo López in the second inning. He’s compiled a slightly underwhelming .267/.306/.457 triple-slash line with 12 extra-base hits (three homers) across 111 plate appearances, but a quick peek under the hood reveals an intriguing skill set. He’s recorded a hard-hit rate over 50 percent, including a whopping 42 batted balls with an exit velocity in excess of 95 mph. He's going to be a good one, folks.
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Friday’s Matchup of the Day
If you’re in the mood for a late-night pitcher's duel, the Freeway Series opener has you covered. Urias and Canning have been on a roll lately, and are coming off their best starts of the season so far. Urias recorded 10 strikeouts over seven innings of one-run ball against the Brewers, while Canning posted a season-high nine strikeouts over 5 1/3 frames in a win over the Mariners. If there’s one thing we can guarantee, it’s that there will be plenty of whiffs in this one.
American League Quick Hits: Astros manager Dusty Baker said Thursday that Jake Odorizzi threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday. He also added that the 31-year-old righty will likely require another bullpen before going on a minor-league rehab assignment … George Springer (quad) is expected to require more than a 10-day stint on the injured list … Willie Calhoun went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Joey Gallo clobbered a solo homer in the Rangers’ win over the Twins in extra-innings … Randal Grichuk homered and collected five RBI, while Bo Bichette notched three hits and stole a pair of bases in the Blue Jays’ blowout victory over the Athletics … Manuel Margot hit a game-tying RBI single and also stole a pair of bases in the Rays' comeback win over the Angels ... Franmil Reyes hit his eighth homer of the season in the Indians’ win over the Royals … Franchy Cordero went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and an RBI in the Red Sox’ win over the Tigers … Willians Astudillo went 3-for-5 with two RBI and Nick Gordon stole a pair of bases in the Twins’ loss to the Rangers in extra-innings … Harold Castro went 3-for-5 with three RBI in the Tigers’ loss to the Red Sox … Mark Canha swatted a solo homer in the Athletics’ loss to the Blue Jays … Gerrit Cole yielded two runs over seven innings in a no-decision against the Astros … Lance McCullers Jr. posted eight strikeouts over six innings of three-run ball in a no-decision against the Yankees … Hyun-Jin Ryu whiffed six batters over five innings to pick up a win against the Athletics in his return from the 10-day injured list … Jordan Lyles recorded seven strikeouts over five innings of three-run ball in a no-decision against the Twins … Nathan Eovaldi was tagged for six runs over 4 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Tigers … Danny Duffy allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Indians … Michael Pineda allowed two runs over six innings in a no-decision against the Rangers … Triston McKenzie fired five scoreless innings to pick up a win against the Royals … Wilson Ramos exited Thursday's game against the Red Sox due to lower back tightness … Gio Urshela was removed from Thursday's game against the Astros due to a knee injury … Enrique Hernandez exited Thursday’s game against the Tigers due to right hamstring tightness … Alex Verdugo (back) had two hits in his return to the Red Sox’ starting lineup Thursday after sitting out with back tightness on Wednesday … Martin Maldonado (trapezius) returned to the Astros’ lineup for Thursday’s series finale against the Yankees after sitting out on Wednesday … Angels placed Chris Rodríguez on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation and also placed Max Stassi on the 7-day concussion injured list … Luis Severino (elbow) is scheduled to begin facing live hitters early next week at the Yankees' spring training complex in Tampa, Florida … Blue Jays placed David Phelps on the 10-day injured list with a right lat strain … Red Sox signed RHP Brandon Workman to a minor-league contract.
National League Quick Hits: Jacob deGrom (lat) played catch on the field Thursday afternoon in St. Louis. He’ll throw a bullpen session on Friday and could then return to the Mets' starting rotation Sunday against the Diamondbacks. The 32-year-old righty was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday versus the Cardinals due to mild right lat inflammation … Bryce Harper (wrist) was absent from the Phillies’ lineup for the fourth straight game on Thursday … He’s missed seven of the team’s last eight games due to a combination of wrist and head injuries … Mets transferred Carlos Carrasco (hamstring) from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day injured list. The 34-year-old righty hasn’t experienced a setback in his rehabilitation, but he won’t be eligible for activation until the end of May now … Stephen Strasburg (shoulder) threw 35 pitches over two innings in a simulated game on Thursday. He’ll throw at least one more simulated game before the team determines whether he’ll require a minor-league rehab assignment … Ronald Acuña Jr. singled, stole a base, and also scored a run on Thursday as the Braves completed a three-game sweep against the Nationals … Alec Bohm tattooed a solo homer in the Phillies’ win over the Brewers in a low-scoring affair … Adam Duvall homered for the second consecutive game as the Marlins completed a three-game series sweep against the Diamondbacks … Pablo López recorded six strikeouts over five innings on Thursday in a no-decision against the Diamondbacks … Drew Smyly was charged with one run (zero earned) over six innings in a win over the Nationals … Jon Lester allowed three runs over five innings in a loss to the Braves … Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Thursday that Yadier Molina (foot) has been cleared for "some" baseball-related activities … Jazz Chisholm (hamstring) has resumed baseball activities … Dodgers activated Joe Kelly from the 10-day injured list … Archie Bradley (oblique) said Thursday that he expects to be activated on May 18. The 28-year-old righty has been out since early April due to an oblique strain … Ender Inciarte (hamstring) began a minor-league rehab assignment Thursday with Triple-A Gwinnett … Tyler Beede started a minor-league rehab assignment Thursday with Triple-A Sacramento … Rockies minor leaguer Colton Welker has been suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball after testing positive for a banned substance.