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Sano Absence May Impact Division Race

 

Enjoy a Wednesday notes column leading off with the Twins, and including basketball and football newsmakers.

The Twins start playing meaningful games next week when the regular season begins, and they are a popular pick to finish second in the mediocre AL Central Division. The more optimistic fans and media were thinking division title during the offseason, but now maybe less so with puzzling slugger Miguel Sano not expected in the lineup until May.

The Indians have won three consecutive division championships and while the roster doesn’t look as formidable as in the past, the club is anchored by probably baseball’s best starting staff. Those starters could lead the way to 90+ wins, while the Twins are a smart choice to win 80 to 85.

Sano told Sports Headliners a few years ago he might be capable of producing Miguel Cabrera type hitting numbers. “I can be better than Cabrera, I think,” he said in the summer of 2015. Sano, though, isn’t even close to matching the numbers of the future Tigers’ Hall of Famer. The Twins’ third baseman began his MLB career in 2014 and his play has been characterized as much by injuries as production at the plate.

The 6-foot-4 Sano, with a .199 batting average, didn’t even come close to hitting his weight (260) last season. He is out until possibly the time of his 26th birthday on May 11. Sano, whose latest problem is with his heel, tantalized the Twins in 2017 with his 28 home runs and 77 RBI. His presence in the lineup from the beginning of this season would have added confidence to those predicting a first Twins division championship since 2010.

It will be interesting to see how the Twins’ pitching staff develops including the late innings situation. Perhaps the club will not have an ace closer, instead using a few different relief pitchers in that role.

Minnesota’s regular season and home opener against the Indians will be played late afternoon on Thursday of next week, with Accuweather.com predicting a day time high of 56 degrees. The three-game series with the Indians also has scheduled day time dates at Target Field on March 30 and 31 when temps are predicted to be in the 40’s.

On opening day the club is giving away Twins puffer vests to the first 30,000 fans. Former Twin and AL MVP Justin Morneau will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, with Minneapolis song writer and performer Sean Tillman (aka Har Mar Superstar) singing the National Anthem.

As of this morning on the Twins’ ticket website, there were tickets available for the opener ranging in cost from $17 to $31.

There were rumors last week junior Gophers forward Michael Hurt will transfer to the college destination of his superstar brother Matthew Hurt, a senior at Rochester John Marshall. The possibility was mentioned to me months ago but I chose not to write about the speculation.

Michael would be eligible to play next season with his brother who has yet to announce his college choice, and could be destined to the NBA in another year via the 2020 league draft. Michael is a three-year reserve who this season is averaging 1.7 points per game and is 1 of 13 on three point field goal attempts. If he were to leave Minnesota, that presumably opens up a scholarship for the Gophers who have multiple roster needs for next season and should be shopping for junior college help.

Matthew, 6-foot-9, is so skilled he can excel at multiple positions. The bluebloods of college basketball, including Duke and North Carolina, would welcome the five-star recruit, and perhaps his brother—allowing the twosome to play one year together.

It will be a major surprise if Matthew isn’t announced as the state’s Mr. Basketball winner at the Timberwolves game on March 26. Hurt, who averaged about 37 points per game this season, won’t be in attendance because he will play among the nation’s elite players at the March 27 McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta.

A member of John Marshall’s varsity since eighth grade, Hurt has closed out his high school career never having played in the state tournament. Lakeville North has blocked Marshall’s path to the state tournament by winning seven consecutive times in the section finals.

Among the favorites to win the Class 4A Tournament this week is Hopkins with star center-power forward Zeke Nnjai. He is committed to Arizona for next season but if Wildcats coach Sean Miller leaves the program speculation will start about Nnjai’s college destination.

The Gophers, in search of a point guard all season, could have filled that opening two years ago by successfully recruiting Champlin Park’s McKinley Wright, who as a sophomore at Colorado has been named first team All-Pac-12. He also was an honorable mention choice for the league’s all-defensive team.

CBS lead sportscaster Jim Nantz, who will be here for the Minneapolis Final Four, gave a shout-out to 99-year-old Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman on last Saturday’s telecast of the Minnesota-Michigan Big Ten Tournament game, and he told the listening audience he will speak to the Twin Cities Dunkers when he is town. The downtown-Minneapolis based Dunkers dates back to 1948 and Hartman has been a member since 1965.

Purdue, who the Gophers defeated twice in March, is an upset pick to make a run in the NCAA Tournament including a prediction by Seth Davis the Boilermakers will advance to the Minneapolis Final Four. Davis, the CBS in-studio college hoops analyst, is the son of Lanny Davis, the well-known lawyer and TV political commentator.

Steve Erban and Paul Dillion are among Gophers fans expected in Des Moines tomorrow for Minnesota’s NCAA Tournament game against Louisville. Erban emailed that the two are the only people who have seen every Gopher NCAA Tournament game dating back to 1989.

Gophers’ athletic director Mark Coyle said on the WCCO Radio Sports Huddle show last Sunday that about $130 million out of the $166 million targeted cost has been raised for the new Athlete’s Village on campus.

Gophers head football coach P.J. Fleck, new North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz, and former Vikings Matt Birk and Ben Leber are headline speakers at next week’s MFCA Football Clinic at the DoubleTree in St. Louis Park. More than 30 speakers and over 50 sessions are scheduled for the March 28-30 clinic. More at mnfootballcoaches.com

Karl-Anthony Towns had his 47th double-double of the season last night when he scored 26 points and got 21 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ loss to the Warriors at Target Center.

Mike Zimmer

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer hosts his first Mike Zimmer Golf Classic at Bearpath Golf and Country Club in Eden Prairie on Monday, May 13. The event is part of the Mike Zimmer Foundation. Hole sponsorships starting at a $1,000 are available. More at Mikezimmerfoundation.org.

Looks like Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman were right about quarterback Case Keenum who they let walk as a free agent last year. The Broncos, who signed Keenum in 2018, traded him to the Redskins earlier this month and now have turned to another veteran, Joe Flacco, as their quarterback leader. Keenum is with his fourth team in four years.

Ex-Gopher Phil Nelson, who received a lot of media and fan attention last month for a no-look pass, has completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 513 yards, and thrown three touchdown passes and three interceptions, quarterbacking the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football, according to noextrapoints.com.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Jim Brunzell
    March 20, 2019 at 10:00 am

    David, Miguel Sano has to be a complete knucklehead! If it's not his weight, it's an injury. I think the Twins should cut him or trade him. What a disappointment- keep up the great reporting- Brunzy

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