The Twins clinched the American League Central title Wednesday night, and for all the production the team has gotten from players such as Eddie Rosario, Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver, the player who has had the biggest hits and really turned his career around the most has to be Sano.
After hitting only .199 with 13 homers in 71 games last season, the word heading into spring training was that Sano had lost a lot of weight and was refocused on having a great year.
Unfortunately, his season got off to a tough start when he missed the first month because of a cut on his heel he got during a celebration after his team won the championship in the Dominican Winter League in January.
In his first 12 games with the Twins, he hit only .213. But since then he has been one of the best power hitters in all of baseball.
Since June 2 he has hit .250 with 28 home runs, 67 RBI and 62 runs scored in 91 games — numbers that would put him on pace for 51 homers, 121 RBI and 110 runs scored in a full season.
Since the All-Star break, Sano is tied for third in the AL with 20 home runs and tied for fifth with 53 RBI. He has really come through in big moments when the club needed him this season: Seventeen of his homers have come with the Twins trailing by two runs or fewer.
Sano has set career highs in home runs (33), RBI (77), slugging percentage (.574) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.918).
Most importantly, since August 1 — when the Twins were dealing with injuries all over the field — Sano has really been the player who kept the team going. In that stretch, the Twins went 29-16 overall and Sano hit 15 homers, drew 24 walks, drove in 39 runs and scored another 34 in 44 starts.
He hit a walk-off homer to beat the Braves 5-3 on Aug. 5. On Aug. 24, with the Twins trailing Detroit 4-3, he hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning that led to a 8-5 victory. And on Sept. 14, he hit maybe the biggest homer of the season when he broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning with a grand slam against Cleveland to secure a 9-5 victory and a doubleheader sweep that all but settled the Central race.
On top of that, Sano’s 482-foot homer in a 9-8 victory last week against Chicago gave him 30 for the season — the fifth Twins player with 30 or more home runs this year, a feat never before accomplished in MLB history.
And while Sano is still three years away from free agency and made only $2.65 million this season, there is no doubt the Twins will try to sign him to a long-term deal, as they did with Jorge Polanco and Kepler before this season.
The Vikings made two key draft picks to solidify the running back position with Dalvin Cook being taken in the second round (41st overall) in 2017 out of Florida State and Alexander Mattison being taken in the third round (102nd overall) in 2019 out of Boise State.
Those two backs are now the driving force behind the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFC, with the Vikings averaging 193.7 yards per game. Cook leads the NFL in rushing with 375 yards.
Mattison has gained 132 yards on 25 carries through three weeks, the sixth-most rushing yards by a Vikings rookie over his first three games. Cook leads that list, after rushing for 288 yards through three weeks in 2017. He’s followed by Adrian Peterson (271 yards in 2007), Chuck Foreman (231 yards in 1973), Alfred Anderson (198 yards in 1984) and Michael Bennett (144 yards in 2001).
The main difference between Mattison and those other five rookie backs is that he is a backup.
Mattison said one of the biggest reasons for his early success is having someone such as Cook help him transition to the pro game.
“Learning a lot, really trying to pick up the offensive scheme and learn from Dalvin, especially, and his experience,” Mattison said. “I’m trying to figure out the offense a little bit and get the feel for it.”
So far, Mattison has made the most out of his opportunities. He got his first NFL touchdown on a 10-yard run in the Vikings’ 34-14 victory over the Raiders on Sunday. Mattison won the Mountain Valley League title in the 110-meter hurdles when he was a senior at San Bernardino (Calif.) High School in 2016, skills he used to leap over a Raiders defender for his first score.
When the Vikings lost Latavius Murray in free agency, it seemed likely the team would draft a running back, but Mattison wasn’t expecting to be that selection.
“It was probably a little bit of a surprise, just because I hadn’t spoken to the Vikings that much during the process,” he said. “But it was an amazing feeling.”
Mattison’s goal this season is staying focused on being a steady player.
“I would say being consistent both in the run game and the pass game and just making sure that I’m picking up protections and getting out in my routes and doing the right thing and executing on the field every play,” he said.
Brooks knows Purdue
The return of redshirt senior running back Shannon Brooks couldn’t come at a better time, because the Gophers start Big Ten play on the road Saturday at Purdue, where they are two-point favorites, and Brooks has had a lot of success there in his career.
In 2015, Brooks had the breakout game of his freshman season at Purdue when he rushed for 176 yards on only 17 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run.
In 2017, Brooks played only six games but one of them was at Purdue, where he rushed 18 times for 116 yards.
The Gophers lost 31-17 at Purdue in 2017 and beat them 41-10 at TCF Bank Stadium last year in coach P.J. Fleck’s first two years leading the program. He said the good news is the running backs are ready to share the ball.
“We have a bunch of backs, and one thing I love about our running backs is they don’t care who gets the yards, they don’t care who gets the credit, they want the ball when they need the ball and I know they all want it, but they’re very selfless,” he said. “I appreciate that.”
Purdue might be without starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar (going through concussion protocol), but Fleck said it doesn’t matter who starts, the Boilermakers will be a tough opponent.
“They’re very talented, they spread you out from sideline to sideline, goal line to goal line,” Fleck said. “They have very good athletes. [Wide receiver] Rondale Moore is one of the best players in college football. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The gadgets that somebody would look at is really their whole offense, in terms of they’ll hit you with screens, trick plays, reverses, flea-flickers. It’s a very big part of their offense and they’re very good at it.”