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Last-place Twins shakeup Gardenhire's staff

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Last-place Twins shakeup Gardenhire's staff

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For decades the Minnesota Twins have been known as one of baseball's most patient and loyal franchises, sticking with managers, coaches and members of the front office in the belief that stability is a key to long-term success.

Two straight last-place finishes in a gorgeous new ballpark appear to have gone a long way toward changing that approach.

The Twins fired longtime bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, third base coach Steve Liddle, first base coach Jerry White and head athletic trainer Rick McWane on Thursday while reassigning bench coach Scott Ullger and hitting coach Joe Vavra in a significant shake-up of manager Ron Gardenhire's staff.

Owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and GM Terry Ryan planned to address the changes at a news conference on Friday, but the message was delivered a day early. Gardenhire campaigned to keep his staff in place earlier in the week, but 195 losses in two seasons gave him little bargaining power.

``I have all the faith that they can do the job,'' Gardenhire said on Sunday. ``But some of these things aren't going to be left up to me. It's going to be left to ownership and Terry.''

Pitching coach Rick Anderson was the only coach on Gardenhire's tight-knit staff to retain the job he had. Ullger will oversee outfield instruction while Vavra, who joined the staff in 2006, will work with the infielders.

Changes to a manager's staff are commonplace in the big leagues, seemingly in every city outside of Minneapolis. Aside from Vavra, the entire coaching staff has been together since 2002, an incredible run of stability that presided over six AL Central championships, one run to the ALCS and the misery of the last two seasons.

Stelmaszek has been with the organization since 1978 and joined the Twins coaching staff in 1981, becoming a beloved figure in the clubhouse and notable prankster.

But the stability may have also played a role in the decision to shake things up, with the front office looking for some fresh voices in the clubhouse. Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who has worked with the Twins minor league system for years, has expressed an interest in joining the staff, while Triple-A Rochester coaches Tom Brunansky, Bobby Cuellar and Gene Glynn have all been mentioned as possible replacements.

McWane's firing came as little surprise. He has been with the organization for 24 seasons and served as the head trainer for the previous eight years, but several former players have grumbled about what they perceived as substandard treatment and diagnosis of injuries in recent seasons.

It's the second straight offseason where the once-patient Pohlad family has made significant changes. Jim Pohlad fired GM Bill Smith after 99 losses in 2011 and replaced him with Ryan, the man credited with building the organization into an AL Central power.

The Twins finished this season 66-96, 22 games behind AL Central champ Detroit and the worst record in the league, and more changes could be on the way.

Ryan made it clear that most players outside of Joe Mauer, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, could be discussed in deals that would replenish the Twins' dilapidated starting rotation.

``When you lose 90-plus games two years in a row, there shouldn't be too many untouchables on the club,'' Ryan said. ``You've got to find a way to get better.''

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the 2012 season is how many things went right for them this season. Mauer and Justin Morneau stayed healthy for the entire season, with Mauer bouncing back from a nightmare 2011 to contend for another AL batting crown. Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit delivered career seasons, Scott Diamond became a mainstay in the rotation and closer Glen Perkins and setup man Jared Burton gave Minnesota a formidable back end of the bullpen.

``That just stresses the importance of the rotation,'' Ryan said. ``We've had some guys that have had very good years. And unfortunately we're still losing 90-some games.''

The rotation was a disaster from opening day. Scott Baker was lost before the season began with Tommy John surgery, Carl Pavano battled injuries for most of the year and only pitched in 11 games, and Francisco Liriano was traded. Jason Marquis and Nick Blackburn were both designated for assignment after struggling and youngsters Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Liam Hendriks and P.J. Walters vacillated between mediocre and ineffective.

``Of course, you'd love to be able to keep all your players and get starting pitching, but that's really almost impossible,'' Gardenhire said. ``There aren't that many free agents out there that are going to be able to step in and do what we want them to do, and that's fill out the first few spots of our starting rotation.''

For what it's worth, Morneau wants to stick around and thinks the team is a lot closer to returning to relevance than some may think.

``There's been a lot of positives you can look at,'' Morneau said. ``I don't feel like we're that far off. We dug ourselves such a big hole at the start that we were running uphill the whole way. When you're playing catch-up it eventually wears on you.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APkrawczynski

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

The 2018 Major League All-Star Game is less than a month away. Fan votes are well underway and early frontrunners are close to locking their position in the Midsummer Classic.

Yesterday, we projected how the National League roster will play out. Today it is time to look at the American League roster projection.

For five straight seasons, the AL has had the upper hand in the MLB All-Star Game. In 2018, it does not appear that will change as the American League roster will be loaded from top to bottom.

As a reminder, here is how the process shakes out, first with the fan vote, players’ ballots, and the MLB Commissioner’s Office:

  • Fan vote: nine position players in AL (DH)/ eight in NL; plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 17 players in AL/ 16 players in NL; (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: five AL players (four pitchers, one position player) and seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players)

One player from each team must make the initial roster (before injury withdraws, etc.). Below is how it looks the American League roster will play out, considering the latest fan vote returns:

American League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Wilson Ramos, Rays (Fan Vote), Gary Sánchez, Yankees (Player Ballot)
1B – José Abreu, White Sox (Fan Vote), Joey Gallo, Rangers (Player Ballot)
2B – Jose Altuve, Astros (Fan Vote), Jed Lowrie, Athletics (Player Ballot)
3B – José Ramírez, Indians (Fan Vote), Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays (Player Ballot), Mike Moustakas, Royals (Commissioner’s Office)
SS – Manny Machado, Orioles (Fan Vote), Jean Segura, Mariners (Player Ballot),
OF – Mookie Betts, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Mike Trout, Angels (Fan Vote), Aaron Judge, Yankees (Fan Vote), Michael Brantley, Indians (Player Ballot), Eddie Rosario, Twins (Player Ballot), Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees (Player Ballot),
DH – J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Shohei Ohtani, Angels (Player Ballot)

SP – Justin Verlander, Astros (Player Ballot), Luis Severino, Yankees (Player Ballot), Corey Kluber, Indians (Player Ballot), Chris Sale, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Gerrit Cole, Astros (Player Ballot), Blake Snell, Tampa Bay (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Edwin Díaz, Mariners (Player Ballot), Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (Player Ballot), Joe Jiménez, Tigers (Commissioner’s Office), Delin Betances, Yankees (Commissioner’s Office), Chris Devenski, Astros (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Jeff Luhnow, Astros

Based on this projection, the New York Yankees will have the most representatives with six. The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox will both have four.

Ensuring no snubs, there will be five players selected for the final fan vote to get one more All-Star into the game for a total of 32 for the American League. As you can see, no matter how the AL roster plays out, it will be a dominant team once again as they look for six straight All-Star wins.

Four of those five wins were inside a National League stadium and that will not change as the Washington Nationals will host this season.

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Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

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Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

The Capitals found out who their opponent will be for the home opener on Oct. 3 and it's not the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And you know what? That's OK. Winning the Stanley Cup was awesome and the banner raising will be an incredible scene regardless. 

Plus, the Penguins need that night off because they have to get ready for their own home opener on Oct. 4 against...the Caps?

Wait, what?

In 2016, the Capitals were in attendance as the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup banner. That had to sting considering Pittsburgh eliminated Washington in the playoffs.

It has not become a tradition to make rivals watch as teams raise banners and there's nothing that said the NHL had to schedule the Penguins for Washington's home opener. But it does seem odd that the NHL is going to make the defending Stanley Cup champions play a back-to-back right out of the gate with the second end coming against their archrivals in Pittsburgh.

Hey Caps, it's the NHL here. Congrats again. Vegas is a hell of a city, am I right? So, listen...we thought about it and decided you won't get to raise your banner against your rivals. Sorry about that. We tried and we couldn't get them for your first game. Good news though, we moved it all the way up to the second game, we just couldn't get it any sooner than that. You'll be playing them the second game of the season...the night after your home opener...in Pittsburgh...for their home opener. Anyway, good luck on the repeat.

Makes sense.

Look, if Washington can't have Pittsburgh for the home opener fine. It would have been nice, but it's really not a big deal. Raising the banner will be special regardless of who the opponent will be. But don't turn around and make the Caps play in the Penguins' home opener the very next day.

The schedule makers did the Caps no favors with this one.

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