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Orioles advance to face the hated Yankees

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Orioles advance to face the hated Yankees

From Comcast SportsNetARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles will get another chance to overtake the New York Yankees.The surprising O's have already beaten some big odds, getting past the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers and their Japanese ace, Yu Darvish, in the win-or-go-home wild-card playoff.Joe Saunders pitched effectively into the sixth inning at a place where he had never won, Adam Jones delivered the tiebreaking sacrifice fly and the Orioles, in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, eliminated the Rangers 5-1 Friday night."With our team it's just a bunch of guys that raised the bar and wouldn't give in and still haven't. Now they get a chance to win to roll the dice, and there's a lot of good card players in there," said Showalter, their manager.The Orioles advanced to play the East champion Yankees, the AL's top seed -- the teams split 18 games this season. The best-of-five division series starts Sunday at Camden Yards.The upstart Orioles spent the whole second half chasing New York, never passing them and falling just short in a neck-and-neck race for the division title.Turns out, the Yankees haven't brushed off these Birds just yet."Real proud of everybody. Tacking on runs were big, knew they were going to run at you," Showalter said. "But just a real proud moment for us.""Our guys approached it and we talked about it being sudden life instead of sudden death, and we played that way. You've got to seize the opportunity. We don't get many," he said.After twice coming with a strike of winning last year's World Series, this season is over that quickly for the Rangers, who were in first place for a majors-high 178 days this season. Texas loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth before David Murphy flied out to end it."We just didn't get it done," manager Ron Washington said.The Rangers lost the AL West crown on the final day of the regular season, after being swept in three games at Oakland for a stretch of nine losses their last 13 games."I'm not stunned, I was right there watching it," Washington said.Their worst slump of the season came at the wrong time for Texas, which a week ago had a four-game division lead with six games to play. Because of that, they couldn't avoid the majors' new winner-take-all postseason openers, and then couldn't get past their Orioles with their top pitcher on the mound."To be honest with you I never thought anything like this would happen," Washington said.Wiped out by San Francisco in the 2010 World Series, the Rangers twice came within a strike of their first World Series championship last October against St. Louis.When the Rangers committed more than 107 million last winter to acquire Darvish, they did so with the anticipation he'd be on the mound for many big games."Me and my teammates and the Rangers' fans, I don't think we all thought that it would end this early," Darvish said through a translator. "I mean, right now, no. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do tomorrow."They never would have expected him being outdueled in a playoff game by Saunders, a late-season addition by the Orioles who had lost all six of his previous starts with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark."Our main job tonight was be as calm as we could and not try to do too much," Saunders said. "I think we did that to the best. We just clawed and scratched our way to a couple runs and played great defense."Saunders quickly gave up the Orioles' 1-0 lead in the first, but that was the only run he allowed in 5 2-3 innings. The left-hander struck out four and walked one."I love being the underdog. To knock off the defending two-time champs from the past couple of years is pretty amazing, I think," he said.Even though it was the postseason, the Orioles stuck to the regular Friday night uniforms -- including black tops and caps with script O's instead of the traditional smiling cartoon bird.Four pitches into the game, they led against Darvish, who struck out seven in 6 2-3 innings.Nate McLouth grounded Darvish's first pitch toward first baseman Michael Young. The longest-tenured Rangers player got charged with an error when he tried to backhand the ball, which ricocheted off the heel of his glove and away from him.McLouth stole second base on the third pitch. J.J. Hardy then drove him in by grounding a hard single up the middle -- the Orioles had only one more hit until a sequence in the sixth that needed some interpretation.The O's had consecutive singles to start the sixth before Jones' sacrifice fly made it 2-1.After backing up the plate when Jones hit the ball in the air, Darvish started stretching his shoulder and rolling his neck. Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux went out to the mound to try to figure out what was wrong when their pitcher still looked uncomfortable.Darvish's translator, Joe Furukawa, was also on his way out before initially being waved back by umpires. The six umpires then conferred before allowing the translator to come out while Darvish kept stretching and then threw a couple of pitches. Darvish said he had a cramp in the muscle on the top of his shoulder.Darvish finished the sixth with a strikeout, and started the seventh with another, before Ryan Flaherty's single and a sac bunt by Manny Machado. Derek Holland took over and gave up an RBI single by McLouth for a 3-1 lead.Even though he was a rookie in the majors, the 26-year-old Darvish was 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA and five complete games in 11 postseason starts for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2006-11.McLouth added a sacrifice fly in the ninth, when the Orioles scored twice against Rangers closer Joe Nathan.Jim Johnson, who set an Orioles record with 51 saves, allowed a walk and two hits, including a two-out pinch single by 19-year-old Jurickson Profar, before Murphy's game-ending flyball to left.Saunders, who was with Arizona until the end of August, benefited from three double-play grounders and some bad swings by slugger Josh Hamilton, the former AL MVP and free-agent-to-be who might have played his last home game in a Texas uniform.Hamilton was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, both on three pitches, including with a runner at second base to end the eighth. He swung at the first pitch his other at-bats -- grounding in a double play in the first that did send home Texas' only run, and hit a comebacker to start the sixth.Even if a second wild card hadn't been added this year, the Orioles and Rangers would have been playing a winner-take-all game since both had 93 wins in the regular season.Under the old playoff rules, they would have met in a 163rd regular-season game the next day to determine the only wild card, with the winner hitting the road to open the division series.With the new format, it was a postseason game after an extra day -- when Washington gave his team off after being swept in Oakland and losing the AL West crown on the regular season's final day.The new rules also eliminated the prohibition against teams from the same division meeting in the ALDS, setting up the Orioles and Yankees.For the Rangers, they're headed into their longest offseason in three years.NOTES:Orioles 1B Mark Reynolds got hit on his right hand by a pitch in the second. He then stole second, matching his stolen base total from the regular season before getting stranded there. ... The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by 86-year-old Sister Frances Evans, a longtime Rangers fan who was escorted by Nolan Ryan to a spot a few feet in front of the plate. She wound up and threw to former Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg.

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Star NBA draft prospect Michael Porter, Jr. likely out for season with back injury

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USA Today Sports Images

Star NBA draft prospect Michael Porter, Jr. likely out for season with back injury

There was a potentially major development in the 2018 NBA Draft on Tuesday, as news broke that star Missouri freshman Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo back surgery that could keep him out for the rest of the season.

Porter, 19, will have a "microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs," according to the school.

Porter played in just one game, and for only two minutes, after entering this season as one of the top recruits in the nation.

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A 6-foot-10 forward, Porter is projected by most mock drafts to be a top five pick. He is highly skilled for his size with the ability to shoot and handle the ball.

It's too early to project how much this will affect his draft status, but injuries this serious often cause players to slide.

Nerlens Noel tore his ACL as a freshman at Kentucky and was picked sixth the following summer despite once being considered the top prospect in the draft.

Joel Embiid suffered a back injury as a freshman at Kansas, yet was still taken third in a what was a deep class. It depends on the injury and the potential of the player.

There's a chance Porter returns this season. He has a recovery timeline of three-to-four months, which means he could be back in March. But with hopefully a long NBA career ahead of him, it wouldn't seem wise to risk it.

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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USA TODAY Sports

Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

The Caps are struggling of late and the top six is a big reason why. Washington has lost three of its last four games and has been outscored in those four games 17-9, but the top six’s problems have been lingering for longer than just these past four games.

Nicklas Backstrom has only two even strength points in his last 13 games and no goals since Oct. 14. T.J. Oshie is producing well on the power play, but he is also struggling five-on-five with one goal and four assists in his past 17 games.

Likewise, the second line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly is also struggling. They have not scored an even-strength point in six games.

A team cannot be successful if its top players are not producing offensively. Do these recent struggles show that it is time for Washington to go back to the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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Despite their past success, the trio has not started together at any point this season. Head coach Barry Trotz denied on Tuesday that he has any hesitancy towards putting those three back together and pointed out that he did actually use that line in the team’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“In Colorado I tried to do that,” Trotz said, “Put Ovi, Osh and Backstrom against their second line and they allowed that and they didn't get any production so I'm trying it. Their top line outplayed our top line.”

When asked why he had not used the line from the start of a game, Trotz essentially dismissed the question saying, “Just don’t feel like it.”

Despite Trotz’s denial, there does seem to be some hesitancy from him to go back to a line that has been incredibly successful in the past. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on the ice five-on-five for a grand total of 16:46 this season. In addition to Oshie who has been his consistent linemate, Backstrom has spent more even-strength ice time with Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson than he has with Ovechkin.

Why?

One reason is Trotz remains unconcerned with Backstrom’s slump. While he may not be generating points, the chances are still there.

“Against Minnesota [Backstrom] could have had a hat trick and they're not going in easy for him,” Trotz said. “I think you have more concern when you're not getting any chances than when you are getting chances. When you're getting chances, you're obviously getting the good spots, you're doing lots of good things, they're just not going in for you. When you're not getting any chances and any looks, then it gets frustrating for you.”

Another reason is Backstrom’s defensive responsibilities. He is one of the team’s top shutdown forwards and defense is not a strong part of Ovechkin’s game. It is hard to put Backstrom in shut down situations if his line is not suited for those responsibilities.

Let’s say the Caps do unite Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie. What would the rest of the forward lines look like?

Here’s a possible projection:

Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

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You can make your own lineup, but you can see there’s not a whole lot of depth behind that top line. This team is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past and the forward lines look even thinner when you put Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie all together on the top. This would be an incredibly top-heavy lineup and it is hard to find success that way.

Then again, they top-six is not having much success now.

Oshie admitted after practice Thursday he would like to see that line reunited, but he remains confident in Trotz’s lineup choices.

“Whatever [Trotz] thinks,” Oshie said. “My game doesn't change much from playing with one player to the next. We've played together at times this year, we've had a couple shifts together so I think he's just still trying to see what works and what he can use. I think we know that we can have success playing us three together. Whatever the lines are is just fine with me.”