A look at who is trending up and down the past week in Minnesota sports, including presumably happy Twins pitchers and a couple players who entertain win or lose.
Twins starting pitching vibes (⬆️ UP)
Minnesota added Pablo Lopez last week – albeit at the expense of Luis Arraez – to help form what is shaping up to be a decent rotation. It might lack a big-time ace, but a five-man set which includes, says, Sonny Gray, Lopez, Kenta Maeda, Tyler Mahle, and Joe Ryan is nothing to sneeze at. But this staff should also be buoyed by what is behind it: the defense. The Twins have seemingly gone out of their way to provide top-notch defenders nearly all around the diamond. Carlos Correa, a 2021 Gold Glove winner, is back at shortstop. Jorge Polanco has been solid since moving to second base (combined 1.0 dWAR with an above-average range factor over the last two years). Newcomer utility man Kyle Farmer also has a good glove, with a 1.3 combined dWAR in 2021-22 with Cincinnati. Behind the plate, Minnesota inked Christian Vazquez in free agency. He had the fifth-best rating in the SABR defensive index among American League catchers in 2022 (5.3) and has a positive dWAR in every season of his eight-year career. And then there’s the outfield. Pity the batter who hits anything even remotely catchable. Newcomer Joey Gallo owns two Gold Gloves. Michael A. Taylor, acquired in a trade earlier in the week, won a Gold Glove in 2021 and last season had a 9.3 SDI rating, sixth highest in the AL (not just outfielders but among all players). Then there’s Byron Buxton. We’ve seen what he can do (yes, when he’s healthy) and owns a Gold Glove of his own. There’s been rumors of Max Kepler perhaps being dealt but if he’s back, there’s another more-than-solid defender. He had a 6.3 SDI, second best among AL right fielders in 2022 while his 36 outfield assists are ninth among active outfielders. It’s not just about who is on the mound pitching the ball but also the players in the field making plays. The combination of the Twins pitching and defense should add up to good things in 2023.
Justin Jefferson, Vikings wide receiver (⬆️ UP)
Just in case you weren’t sure Jefferson had a stellar season – an NFL-leading 128 catches and 1,890 receiving yards notwithstanding – Minnesota’s star receiver was named a finalist Wednesday for the Associated Press’ MVP and Offensive Player of the Year (the NFL uses the AP’s decisions as its official awards). Hard to see a non-quarterback winning MVP but keep on eye on the OPOY (especially since the Pro Football Writers of America tabbed him its OPOY on Wednesday as well). The winners will be announced Feb. 9 in an NFL televised shindig.
Matt Dumba, Wild defenseman (⬇️ DOWN)
With rumors swirling about a possible trade, Dumba was a healthy scratch twice last week – head coach Dean Evason said it was performance related not anything to do with a potential deal. However, Dumba’s time with Minnesota appears to be winding to an end. He’s in the final year of his contract and has just 12 points in 44 games. Dumba returned to action Tuesday and was a minus-2 in 23 minutes of ice time.
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild left wing (⬆️ UP)
Kaprizov notched his 100th career goal this past week, the quickest of anyone in his draft class to reach that mark – and there’s some impressive players on that list. He added goal No. 101 on Tuesday, giving him 13 power-play goals on the season which is just two shy of the Wild single-season record (Brian Rolston with 15 in 2005-06). Kaprizov also notched a three-assist game Jan. 21. In 10 January games, he has seven goals and five assists and now has 27 goals and 30 assists in 46 games. No matter how the Wild are going, win or lose Kaprizov finds a way to entertain.
Anthony Edwards, Wolves guard (⬆️ UP)
Speaking of players who entertain win or lose … Edwards had another electrifying week. In three games he averaged 28.5 points (including hitting 16 of 34 3-points attempts), 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.3 blocks. Whew. Included in that was a 44-point night which was an homage to his soon-to-be traveling girlfriend and featured a posterizing dunk.
The State of Hockey (DOWN ⬇ AND UP ⬆)
Question: What’s the best cure for the Minnesota Wild’s current three-game skid? Answer: The 17th anniversary of Hockey Day Minnesota, aka a weekend chock-full of hockey in White Bear Township that culminates Saturday night when the Wild host the Buffalo Sabres at Xcel Energy Center. Everything you need to know to navigate #HDM2023 can be found here. In the meanwhile, here’s a reader’s digest of the all-time individual leaders for the Wild – skaters and goaltenders – in the annual Hockey Day skate.