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batting title.

Three years later, Arraez is halfway there.

“Can’t put money on it, but I wish I could’ve,” Francona said last week before the first of eight matchups between the AL Central front-runners in a 10-day span. “I don’t know if every year he’ll hit .360, but you get your confidence, you get your legs under you, you feel good. You could see he had that ability. You could see it right away just the way he stood in the batter’s box.”

Carrying an out-of-this-era .344 average into Wednesday, a 12-point lead on Boston’s Rafael Devers in the AL, Arraez has made a strong case to make his first All-Star team when the complete rosters are revealed July 10.

“I’ve got good numbers. I think I need to get there,” Arraez said. “If not, I’m going to keep continuing to play hard and then try to help my team win the games.”

Thriving at the top of the order for the first-place Twins in front of Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa, Arraez had 27 multi-hit games through Tuesday for the most in the major leagues. Only St. Louis first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who led the NL at .347 entering Wednesday, was ahead of Arraez in batting average. Goldschmidt was the only player with a qualifying amount of plate appearances in baseball with a better on-base percentage (.429) than Arraez (.426).

Arraez also led the majors in two-strike batting average (.302) and had the third-best plate appearances per strikeout rate (12.6) entering Wednesday. His longest stretch of at-bats without a hit this season is 11.

“He’s the Rod Carew, the Tony Gwynn type of hitter, just trying to get on base for the guys behind him,” Correa said. “That’s so much better in this game because he walks, too. He’s not only collecting hits, he’s reaching base over 40% over the time. That’s very impressive. That holds a lot of value.”

At a time when he’s hitting more than 100 points above the major league average, Arraez has naturally elicited comparisons to those pure hitters of generations past like Carew, Gwynn and Ichiro Suzuki.

Funny story about that: Both Carew and Ichiro have publicly declared Arraez their favorite hitter to watch these days. When the Twins were in Seattle earlier this month, Arraez got to hear the praise from Ichiro in person.

Signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2013, Arraez has never not been a productive hitter. His .331 career minor league average, including the 2016 Midwest League batting title with Class A Cedar Rapids, can attest to that. In his first 12 at-bats after his first major league call-up in 2019, Arraez had seven hits.

What has helped Arraez become an even better version of himself this season has been healthy knees. They bothered him in 2020 and 2021 and required stints on the injured list. The Twins have also narrowed his range of positions in the field to primarily first base and second base. He has taken a few turns at third base, too, but he’s no longer considered for left field.

“Staying on the dirt has helped him in some ways, just being able to take care of his body,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He does a good job of taking care of himself. The less we can bounce him around to the outfield and have him diving all over the place, and running into walls or potentially other players and things like that, I think that helps him. We want him in the lineup every day.”

With his deep crouch at the plate and forceful, compact swing, Arraez has consistently hit to all three fields — with only teammate Gio Urshela appearing in more games.

“I’ve worked hard for that. That’s why I feel good,” Arraez said. “Just work hard. If I keep continuing my routine, I think I’ll feel good there. I just try to do my best every time.”

Jun 29, 2022 / 2:16 pm


CBC Sports’ daily newsletter looks ahead to what’s in store for Canada’s men’s and women’s national basketball teams.

$47 million for Westbrook to opt-in for the last year of his deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, and nearly $37 million for Irving to do the same with the Brooklyn Nets.

Jalen Brunson will be in demand early, with the expectation that he’ll quickly agree to leave Dallas and become the new point guard in New York. And there will be players who might decide to look elsewhere, or accept huge $200-million-plus deals with their current teams — opportunities that are presenting themselves to Zach LaVine with Chicago and Bradley Beal with Washington.

The biggest deal of the next few days won’t have anything to do with a free agent: All signs point to two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic being offered a supermax extension in the $260 million range by the Denver Nuggets. The only question there will be how quickly he finds a pen to put to that paper.

Minnesota can give Karl-Anthony Towns a supermax of about $210 million this summer, as can Phoenix with Devin Booker.

Other players are restricted free agents, meaning their current teams will have the right to match offers from other clubs. The most notable name on that list is Deandre Ayton, the Phoenix center who was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft but watched others in his draft class get their first extensions last summer.

Some players will be free agents in name only. John Wall, for example, will get $41 million in a buyout from the Houston Rockets, and has already decided that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Clippers next season. The Clippers are expected to use a $6.4 million exception to sign Wall, and that figure matches the money that Wall gave back to make the buyout of what would have been the final year of his contract happen.

“We’ll see what happens as free agency opens up and everything else,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said. “I think the sky’s the limit for our team. The sky is the limit. … And of course, you’ve got to have a little bit of luck to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which is what we’d really like.”

That will be everyone’s goal come 6 p.m. Thursday, to find ways to get closer to the Larry O’Brien, whether that’s in 2023 or beyond.

Such thinking even applies to the champion Golden State Warriors, who have a slew of rotation players — Kevon Looney, Otto Porter, Gary Payton II among them — who just last week were enjoying a parade through San Francisco and are now free to go elsewhere if the opportunities and dollars are right.

“We still do need to surround the team with vets and that’s the plan in free agency,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “It’s easier to get some of the older players, we think, in free agency than young players. Young players are probably the most in-demand in free agency.”

True, and that’s another element of this time of year: Young players, and not grabbing them in free agency this year, but keeping them out of free agency in future years.

Ja Morant will surely be offered a max rookie extension by Memphis, one that will kick in with the 2023-24 season. The Zion Williamson situation in New Orleans will be interesting, as the Pelicans decide how much to offer to — or safely structure a deal for — a No. 1 pick who has missed the majority of his first three NBA seasons because of injury issues. Miami is planning to offer sixth man of the year Tyler Herro an extension, though the Heat will have to determine what number makes the most sense for them going forward.

And, of course, there is a LeBron James angle: The Los Angeles Lakers were a disaster last season and will aim to revamp their roster, plus can give James a two-year extension in August worth nearly $100 million. But before he signs, they have far more pressing concerns.

Officially, it all starts Thursday. A new season is already here.

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