Sano at forefront of Twins' All-Star turnaround

Sano at forefront of Twins' All-Star turnaround

MIAMI -- Not much was expected of the Twins at the beginning of the season. After all, they were coming off a season in which they lost an MLB-most 103 games. But Minnesota emerged as a surprise contender in the first half and entered the All-Star break at 45-43, only 2 1/2 games behind the Indians in the American League Central.

One of the most tangible symbols of their unexpected success could be found on the warning track of Marlins Park on Monday afternoon, where Ervin Santana, Miguel Sano and Brandon Kintzler sat in booths and fielded questions during the media availability for the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. They represent the Twins' first trio of All-Stars since 2009, when Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan earned trips to the Midsummer Classic.

"I think probably a lot of people don't believe what happened with the Twins now," Sano said. "But I can tell you that I feel real different. I know my team has a lot of surprise for this year. This is one of the best teams right now in the big leagues. We have a lot of young players. We have Ervin Santana. We have Jose Berrios. Our team is playing really good."

Sano has been at the forefront of the turnaround, bouncing back from a rough sophomore campaign to be an All-Star in his first year as a full-time third baseman. He credits Fernando Tatis for helping him this year, as he served as his trainer in the offseason in the Dominican Republic and also threw to him in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby. Sano, a Dominican Republic native, said he expects roughly 20 family members to attend the All-Star festivities.

Interactive All-Star roster

"I feel really excited to be here today because I worked really hard for this," Sano said in Spanish. "Thanks to God, they gave me the opportunity to be in the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game, and I feel super happy to have the chance to be here."

Sano advanced to the Derby final on Monday night by defeating Royals slugger Mike Moustakas in Round 1 and the Yankees' Gary Sanchez in Round 2 before bowing out to Sanchez's teammate and eventual champion Aaron Judge.

Santana has been the staff's anchor this year and is an All-Star for the first time since 2008, when he was with the Angels. The 34-year-old veteran has four complete games, which is more than any team, and twice as many as any player. He also leads the AL with 11 starts in which he allowed one run or fewer.

"It's great to be here and share this with my teammates," Santana said. "I did my job in the first half, throwing strikes and keeping the ball low. Now I can focus on the second half and enjoy the All-Star Game."

Kintzler, who was added as an injury replacement, is the Twins' most unlikely All-Star. As recently as eight years ago, Kintzler was pitching in Independent ball, and joined Minnesota on a Minor League contract before last season. After Glen Perkins went down with a shoulder injury that required surgery, Kintzler slid into the closer role and flourished, entering the All-Star break with 23 saves.

"Just being healthy and getting opportunities," said Kintzler, a first-time All-Star at 32. "You've got to get the opportunity to succeed in big roles like that, and you've got to take advantage of it. I know those opportunities for me don't come very much, so the second the Twins were willing to give me a chance to close, you've got to take it and run with it, or else that opportunity might not come again."

Kintzler had planned on spending the All-Star break with his family at a cabin in Gull Lake, Minn., though he had to cancel those plans and make new travel arrangements to Miami when he received news of his selection. He did get his $2,800 deposit back, though.

"They gave me my money back," Kintzler said. "They were Twins fans. Nice people."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.