- The Twins reinstated southpaw Caleb Thielbar from the COVID-IL, the team announced, with right-hander Luke Farrell optioned to the alternate site in a corresponding move. Thielbar was placed on the IL on April 20 along with Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick, though while the two outfielders actually tested positive for the virus, Thielbar was noted only as a close contact. Thielbar has a whopping 48.4% strikeout rate over seven innings this season but only a 5.14 ERA, thanks in large part to three home runs allowed.
The latest coronavirus-related updates from around the game:
- Second baseman Jose Altuve has cleared Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 protocols and will return to the Astros, manager Dusty Baker told Jake Kaplan of The Athletic and other reporters. Baker isn’t sure when Houston will activate Altuve, one of five Astros who went on the COVID list back on April 14. The team has since activated the other four (Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia). Altuve had a down 2020 season, but the former AL MVP has gotten off to a fast start this year with a .318/.380/.455 over 50 plate appearances. Houston has started Aledmys Diaz and Alex De Goti at the keystone during Altuve’s absence.
- Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons has cleared the testing phase and can return to the team, manager Rocco Baldelli informed reporters (including Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com). Simmons stormed out to a .355/.474/.452 start in 38 PA this year before testing positive for the virus and landing on the IL on April 14. He’ll need time to ramp back up before he can return to the Twins’ lineup, Park notes. Jorge Polanco has received the lion’s share of playing time at short with Simmons out, and he’ll start there again Friday.
- Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez has also gotten through the protocols, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet tweets. Hernandez, who tested positive two weeks ago, has returned to taking batting practice and hitting in the case. Manager Charlie Montoyo said he’s hopeful Hernandez will be back in Toronto’s lineup soon.
April 23: The Twins have confirmed that Sano is on the 10-day IL and that both Kirilloff and Gordon have been recalled from their alternate training site in St. Paul. Minnesota also selected the contract of infielder Tzu-Wei Lin to the big league roster and returned catcher Tomas Telis to the alternate site. Telis had been selected off the taxi squad as a replacement player for a Covid IL placement, so he can be sent back to the alternate site and removed from the 40-man roster without clearing waivers. Additionally, the Twins optioned infielder Travis Blankenhorn.
The 27-year-old Lin has seen big league time with the Red Sox in each of the past four seasons, appearing at three infield spots (second base, shortstop, third base) and batting .223/.298/.316 through 218 trips to the plate. Lin hit .300/.440/.600 in 25 spring plate appearances after signing a minor league deal with the Twins and will get his first chance at the MLB level with a club other than Boston.
April 22: The Twins will place first baseman Miguel Sano on the 10-day injured list Friday because of a strained right hamstring, Megan Ryan of the Star Tribune reports. The team will also recall outfielder Alex Kirilloff and infielder Nick Gordon, per Dan Hayes of The Athletic.
Sano suffered the injury on Tuesday, forcing him to miss the second game of the Twins’ doubleheader against the Athletics. The IL placement is the latest negative development in what has been a rough start to the season for Sano, who has batted .111/.310/.244 with two home runs and a career-low .133 ISO (down from a lifetime mark of .253) in 58 plate appearances. Sano has started the vast majority of the Twins’ games at first this year, but when he hasn’t played there, the team has used Willians Astudillo and Mitch Garver.
The 23-year-old Kirilloff, MLB.com’s 22nd-ranked prospect, appeared in two games and took three plate appearances earlier this season, but he may now get a more extensive look with outfielders Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick on the COVID-19 list. Since Minnesota took him 15th overall in the 2016 draft, Kirilloff has more than held his own in the minors with a .317/.365/.498 line and 36 home runs in 1,204 trips to the plate. He’s been ranked among the game’s best overall prospects for each of the past few seasons and made his MLB debut during the postseason last year.
Kirilloff’s impending promotion was a major factor in the Twins opting to move on from Eddie Rosario this winter, and it stands to reason that this promotion to the big leagues will now afford him the opportunity to seize an everyday role and cement his status as a long-term piece for the club. Even with last weekend’s brief promotion as the 27th man in a doubleheader, he’s spent enough time at the alternate site for the club to push his free agency back a year. If Kirilloff sticks in the big leagues from this point forth, the Twins will control him all the way through the 2027 season. He’d likely still qualify as a Super Two player, bringing him to arbitration eligibility after the 2023 campaign.
Gordon, 25, was the fifth pick in the 2014 draft, though his stock has fallen dramatically since then. Gordon did turn in a respectable .298/.342/.459 showing at Triple-A in 319 PA two years ago, but he was unable to play last season after testing positive for COVID. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen ranked Gordon as the Twins’ 37th-best prospect back in January, writing that he “now looks like a fringe role player.”
This season has not started in ideal fashion for the majority of last year’s 16-team playoff field. While the Dodgers, Brewers and Athletics boast terrific records at roughly the 20-game mark, everybody else who qualified for the postseason in 2020 is, at best, hovering around .500. Eight of those clubs currently have more losses than wins (we’ll get to them in a bit).
With a 162-game schedule instead of a 60-game slate, slumping teams have far more time to rebound from slow starts this season. On the other hand, only 10 clubs will make the playoffs in 2021, so teams can ill afford to dig early holes for themselves.
Twins (2020 record: 36-24; 2021 record: 6-11):
- The Twins are coming off an 0-4, COVID-interrupted road trip that came to a horrific end with a 13-12 loss Wednesday, when sloppy defense led to an extra-innings collapse against the A’s. Reliever Alex Colome – the Twins’ keynote bullpen acquisition of the offseason – took the loss, continuing a rough start to the year for him. Meanwhile, ace Kenta Maeda turned in his worst performance of the season (seven earned runs in three innings) and has only gotten past the 4 1/3-frame mark in one of his four starts. The Twins will likely need the Maeda of old back if they’re going to push for a third straight AL Central title, though Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda have helped pick up the slack in their rotation so far. Meanwhile, the Twins’ offense hasn’t been a juggernaut (Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler and Andrelton Simmons have missed time with health issues), but Byron Buxton may be in the early stages of a breakthrough year at the plate and Nelson Cruz isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
Yankees (2020 record: 33-27; 2021 record: 6-11):
- The Yankees were pegged as serious World Series contenders entering the season, but they have looked like bottom-feeders so far. What was supposed to be a high-powered offense has totaled the AL’s fewest runs and put up its second-worst wRC+, owing in part to the absence of injured 2020 home run king Luke Voit. The Yankees’ pitching has been much better than their hitting, but that’s largely thanks to the work of their bullpen – which hasn’t had many leads to protect. Gerrit Cole and, to a much lesser extent, Jordan Montgomery have carried their rotation, while offseason acquisitions Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon haven’t been all that effective coming off injuries, and Domingo German has struggled mightily in his return from a domestic violence suspension. The Yankees should get former ace Luis Severino back from Tommy John surgery during the summer, but there’s no telling how he’ll perform in the wake of two straight injury-wrecked seasons.
Blue Jays (2020 record: 32-28; 2021 record: 8-10):
- The Jays have dealt with a rash of injuries to their pitching staff, including in their rotation – an area that could be a significant question mark even if everyone’s healthy. They have also had to go without their main offseason acquisition, center fielder George Springer, though he shouldn’t be far off from returning from a quad strain. To the Jays’ credit, they’ve essentially tread water thus far, and their plus-10 run differential does rank third in the AL.
Astros (2020 record: 29-31; 2021 record: 7-10):
- The Astros sneaked into the playoffs last year with a sub-.500 record, though they still came within a game of reaching the World Series for the third time in four seasons. However, the team then got weaker in the offseason with the loss of Springer, whom it didn’t adequately replace, and was dealt another blow when starter Framber Valdez suffered a serious finger injury at the beginning of the spring. The Astros reacted by signing veteran Jake Odorizzi, who has delivered miserable results through his first two starts. Aside from Zack Greinke and Luis Garcia, Astros starters have not gotten the job done, while their bullpen has also been a letdown in the early going. Fortunately, even without Springer, a healthy version of Houston’s offense still brings plenty of firepower to the table.
Which of the above four AL teams do you believe has the best chance to rebound and make the playoffs? (Poll link for app users)
Braves (2020 record: 35-25; 2021 record: 8-10)
- The back-to-back-to-back NL East champions have fallen behind in April, thanks in part to injuries to starters Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Drew Smyly. The Braves overcame a series of health problems in their staff last year to earn a trip to the NLCS, of course, but an elite offense led the way then. Their attack has been above average again this year, though Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman are their only regulars who have offered star-caliber production. Conversely, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Travis d’Arnaud have gotten off to brutal starts at the plate.
Cubs (2020 record: 34-26; 2021 record: 8-9)
- The most significant move the Cubs executed over the winter was one that weakened them, at least in the short term. The team said goodbye to Yu Darvish, sending the 2020 NL Cy Young finalist to San Diego for fellow righty Zach Davies and a few prospects. Cutting costs was part of the motivation for that trade and in general when it came to the Cubs’ offseason; as a result, many were bearish on their chances heading into 2021. So far, the preseason pessimism has been warranted. The Cubs have not hit much, evidenced by bottom four National League rankings in runs and wRC+, and their pitching staff owns the NL’s third-highest ERA. Of their starters, only Jake Arrieta and Alec Mills have managed to post an ERA south of 5.00 so far. Surprisingly, the club’s best pitcher has been closer Craig Kimbrel, who’s back in dominant form after he was largely written off before the season.
Cardinals (2020 record: 30-28; 2021 record: 8-10):
- The Cardinals pulled off one of the ultimate headline-grabbing moves of the offseason in acquiring star third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Rockies. The hope then was that Arenado would lift an offense that finished 2020 with a less-than-stellar wRC+ of 93. Arenado has indeed notched solid production so far, yet the Cardinals’ wRC+ sits at an almost identical 94 through 18 games. Meantime, the bottom-line results of the Cardinals’ starters have been a far bigger problem, as their rotation – which is missing the injured Miles Mikolas – has recorded the NL’s fifth-worst ERA.
Marlins (2020 record: 31-29; 2021 record: 8-9):
- As an unexpected playoff entrant a year ago, the Marlins entered this season having to prove themselves all over again. While their record isn’t impressive, the Marlins have outscored their opposition by four runs, logged the NL’s fourth-highest wRC+, and gotten a strong effort from a rotation missing injured righties Sixto Sanchez and Elieser Hernandez. Their starters have handed off to a bullpen that has been a mixed bag – Dylan Floro, Yimi Garcia, John Curtiss, Ross Detwiler and Adam Cimber have kept hitters at bay, but offenses have had their way with Zach Pop, Anthony Bass, Richard Bleier and Paul Campbell.
Which of the above four NL teams do you believe has the best chance to rebound and make the playoffs? (Poll link for app users)
The Twins announced Wednesday that they’ve placed infielder JT Riddle on the Covid-19-related injured list and selected the contract of catcher Tomas Telis from their taxi squad. Riddle becomes the fifth member of the Twins’ roster to land on the Covid-19 IL, joining shortstop Andrelton Simmons, lefty Caleb Thielbar and outfielders Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick. Because of that string of positive tests, which have already required several additions to the roster, Telis was the last remaining member of the five-man taxi squad on the road trip (as noted yesterday by MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park).
There’s no indication from the Twins that Riddle actually tested positive, nor is there any indication that today’s game will be postponed. Minnesota’s games on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were all postponed due to Covid issues within the organization. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey announced a week ago that Simmons had tested positive, and in the days since, both Kepler and Garlick have tested positive as well. Thielbar is on the list as a close contact but has tested negative to this point.
Riddle and Telis, teammates with the 2017-18 Marlins, both signed minor league deals with the Twins this winter. Riddle was only brought up to the big league roster when Simmons was placed on the injured list, and he’s gone 2-for-6 while appearing in four games since that promotion. Telis, meanwhile, has spent the past few years in the Twins’ system but hasn’t been called up from Triple-A or their alternate training site until today. He hit .330/.364/.490 in 82 games with Minnesota’s Triple-A club in 2019 and is a career .230/.267/.298 hitter in 267 Major League plate appearances.
The Twins have placed a pair of outfielders – Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick – as well as left-hander Caleb Thielbar on the COVID-19 injured list, the team announced. Kepler tested positive for the virus, manager Rocco Baldelli announced to Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com and other reporters. Garlick tested positive over the weekend, while Thielbar is on the list as a close contact.
The Twins have been hit hard by COVID over the past several days, as their games against the Angels on Saturday and Sunday were both postponed. The club was previously scheduled to face the Athletics on Monday, but they were also unable to play then. However, the Twins will return to action Tuesday with a doubleheader in Oakland.
To fill their empty roster spots, the Twins reinstated outfielder Brent Rooker from the 10-day IL, added lefty Lewis Thorpe as the 27th man for their doubleheader, recalled infielder Travis Blankenhorn and selected righty Luke Farrell. The 29-year-old Farrell appeared with four different teams – most recently Texas – from 2017-20 and combined for a 5.00 ERA in 63 innings. The Twins signed him to a minor league deal during the offseason.
APRIL 19, 8:54pm: The A’s announced that they’ll play a doubleheader against the Twins on Tuesday.
7:56pm: The Twins’ latest tests came back negative, tweets Rosenthal, who adds that they’re on track to resume play Tuesday.
APRIL 18, 7:34PM: The Twins’ latest round of COVID-19 testing came back negative, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (via Twitter). If tomorrow’s tests are also negative, the team will depart for Oakland with the intention of playing the Tuesday doubleheader.
1:37PM: Major League Baseball has confirmed the postponement of tomorrow’s game. A Tuesday doubleheader has been tentatively scheduled.
1:29PM: Athletics manager Bob Melvin told reporters this afternoon it is his understanding tomorrow’s game between the Twins and Athletics will be postponed (via Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press). The hope is the two teams will be able to return to action on Tuesday, with a doubleheader to make up Monday’s game a possibility.
The Twins’ past two games against the Angels were postponed due to the spread of a COVID-19 variant among the Minnesota clubhouse. To date, three Minnesota players (including Andrelton Simmons and Kyle Garlick) and a staff member have tested positive. The Twins are continuing to monitor for further viral spread.
Minnesota and Oakland were originally scheduled for a three-game series from April 19-21. Both teams have a scheduled off day on Thursday.
APRIL 18: All four of the Twins’ positive cases (Simmons’, Garlick’s, and the unnamed player’s and staff member’s) are linked to one of the COVID-19 variants, Hayes writes.
APRIL 17, 8:03PM: Sunday’s game will also not take place, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (via Twitter).
ARPIL 17, 7:53PM: Talking to The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya and other reporters, Baldelli confirmed Garlick’s positive test. Another unnamed player has also tested positive, as well as the aforementioned staff member on Friday.
APRIL 17, 7:13PM: Kyle Garlick has tested positive for COVID-19, Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (Twitter link), and “the Twins have concern there could be additional positives within their group.” At least one Twins player tested positive for COVID-19 today, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The virus problems don’t seem to be related to Simmons’ case, as The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reports that Simmons hasn’t been around the team since Tuesday, and contact tracing revealed “little crossover” between the shortstop and the currently-affected parties.
APRIL 17, 6:56PM: Tonight’s scheduled game between the Twins and Angels has been postponed due to unspecified issues related to COVID-19, the league announced. According to MLB’s media release, the postponement was made “to allow for continued testing and contact tracing involving members of the Twins organization.”
Minnesota shortstop Andrelton Simmons was placed on the COVID list earlier this week, and manager Rocco Baldelli had a false positive for the virus that almost prevented him from joining the team on their West Coast road trip. Last night’s opening game of the series went ahead as planned (a 10-3 victory for the Angels) even though another Twins staff member did test positive.
Today, Baldelli told reporters (including Megan Ryan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune) that “The details of what’s going on and who it is and who is potentially in contact-tracing and things like that, we’re still working through all of that, and we’re not prepared to discuss it all until we’ve had all of the conversations that we need to. Just more challenges that we have to deal with, and that’s what we have to do. We have to kind of keep our heads up.”
MLB’s statement made no mention of Sunday’s scheduled afternoon tilt in Anaheim, though the league “will continue to provide updates as available.”
- Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, who hasn’t played since Tuesday, is dealing with a mild hamstring strain, Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com tweets. Buxton was out of the Twins’ lineup again for their game in Anaheim on Friday, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll need to go to the IL. The 27-year-old has gotten off to an otherworldly start this season with a .469/.528/.1.094 line and five homers in 36 trips to the plate. He has already posted 1.2 fWAR, which matches the figure he put up last year in 99 more PA (135).
Friday’s coronavirus-related updates from the majors:
- The Astros placed second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, catcher Martin Maldonado and infielder Robel Garcia on the COVID injured list Wednesday. They’re unlikely to return for the team’s five-game road trip, manager Dusty Baker told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle and other reporters. The Astros begin a three-game series in Seattle on Friday, and they’re scheduled to play in Colorado next Tuesday and Wednesday.
- The White Sox announced that they have reinstated right-hander Dylan Cease from the COVID IL and optioned righty Zack Burdi to their alternate site. Cease was only on the list for two days, but he’s already set to return after “a series of negative tests,” the team stated. He’ll make his third start of the season Saturday against the Red Sox. Cease logged a 3.86 ERA with nine strikeouts and six walks over 9 1/3 innings in his first two appearances.
- Twins manager Rocco Baldelli revealed that he received a false positive test on Thursday, Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. He isolated in his office and was then cleared after three or four more tests. The Twins aren’t out of the woods yet, though, as Baldelli said (via Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com) that they’ve had “further COVID-related issues in the clubhouse” on Friday. He couldn’t offer further details.
- The Phillies with go without three members of manager Joe Girardi’s staff because of COVID protocols, according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Hitting coach Joe Dillon, third base coach Dusty Wathan and bullpen coach Dave Lundquist are all away from the team. First base coach Paco Figueroa will move across the diamond to third, and coaching assistant Bobby Meacham will take over at first, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.