The fact that the Twins are hanging around in the AL Central race remains an accomplishment when you consider how little production they have gotten from Miguel Sano, their All-Star third baseman who looked like he was ready to become an MVP candidate last year after hitting .264 with 28 homers, 15 doubles, 77 RBI and 75 runs scored in an injury-shortened 114-game season.
This year, Sano entered Saturday hitting .203 while striking out 60 times in 133 at-bats, an incredible 45.1 percent. And while he had seven homers, eight doubles and 26 RBI, his .272 on-base percentage was 68 points lower than his career mark.
Still, believe it or not, for all the hand-wringing about Sano from the media, through his first 343 career games he compares identically to the greatest power hitter in franchise history, Harmon Killebrew. But Sano has once again been questioned about his conditioning as he works his way back from serious leg injuries.
When it comes to questions about his weight, Sano said he understands everyone has an opinion about what kind of shape he should be in, but he feels comfortable with his game and his body.
“I do not worry about [what other people say]. I play my game,” Sano said through a translator. “That’s my job, what I do here, I don’t care about what other people say about my weight. I can handle extra weight or normal, it’s the same because I hit the same ball. I do my job. I play good defense. Nothing bothers me.”
Has it been tough coming off a long rehab? “It has been tough, because I am coming with that injury in my foot from last year, in my knee, and then this year I hurt my hamstring,” Sano said. “But thank God everything is coming along and I’m getting better.”
Sano said he is working on his high strikeout rate.
“I am just trying to put the ball in play every day and make good contact with it,” he said. “Consistent contact.”
Asked if it was hard dealing with rehab while trying to get in a groove with his bat, he said, “No, I just am focusing on working hard every day and none of that stuff is affecting me.”
Sano, who turned 25 on May 11, entered Saturday with 343 games in parts of four seasons and was hitting .249 with 78 homers, 62 doubles, 221 RBI and a .340 on-base percentage.
Through 343 games and parts of seven seasons with the Washington Senators, Killebrew, who had turned 24 a little over two months earlier, hit .246 with 68 homers, 39 doubles, 173 RBI and a .343 on-base percentage.
It’s also worth noting that when Killebrew hit 343 career games it was in 1960, the Senators’ last year before moving to the Twin Cities, and he was a year removed from making his first All-Star Game, just like Sano is this year.
Killebrew didn’t reach the All-Star Game in 1960 because he missed most of May because of a hamstring injury and played 124 games that season. Sano missed a little under four weeks this season because of a hamstring injury as well.
Asked if he wants to get back to being an All-Star this year, Sano said of course, but he’s also pulling for his team. What he really wants is to play in his first postseason.
“We have a great team. We have a lot of baseball to play,” he said. “I hope we can be in the playoffs.”
Wolves offseason intrigue
The Timberwolves broke their playoff drought this year, but they might face a looming disaster with the NBA salary cap.
It’s possible that the Jimmy Butler trade Tom Thibodeau swung on draft night last year might be the worst thing the team has done, if the Wolves can’t sign him to an extension. They would end up losing Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 draft pick (Lauri Markkanen) to the Bulls for the No. 15 pick, used to select Justin Patton, who has so far played in one NBA game.
The Wolves have to prove to Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler that they should remain with this team for the long haul and they have to prove it soon. Butler becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, while Towns can be a restricted free agent.
There is no doubt Butler, who has a player option for $19.8 million for 2019-20, will choose free agency and look for a max contract. As for Towns, since he made third-team All-NBA this season, he will have a chance at a five-year, $188 million deal from the Wolves.
Neither Thibodeau nor Wolves (and Star Tribune) owner Glen Taylor will talk about either extension, but those decisions are going to shape the franchise for the next decade.
While Andrew Wiggins was given a giant contract that kicks in this season, there’s no doubt that the future of this team hinges on Towns and Butler, two of the top 15 players in the NBA.
But the salary cap is going to be a huge issue. The Wolves are already at $114 million for next year, just under the expected $123 luxury tax, but that’s for only nine players on the 15-man. If they re-sign Towns and Butler, that number will skyrocket in 2019-20, and Taylor could end up paying a fortune in luxury taxes.