Rangers tab Darvish to start playoff opener


Rangers tab Darvish to start playoff opener

From Comcast SportsNet

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Yu Darvish will start the Texas Rangers' first playoff game -- and he finally knows all the details about who and when.

Manager Ron Washington announced Darvish as his pick before the Rangers lost their regular-season finale at Oakland 12-5 on Wednesday to wind up as an AL wild card.

"Of course I'm ready," Darvish said through an interpreter. "If I'm not ready I probably wouldn't be picked. I'm going to approach it like any other start. I'll try to pitch well and give my team a chance to win."

The two-time reigning AL champion Rangers will play in the new one-game, wild-card playoff on Friday at home against the Baltimore Orioles.

"He's finally Yu Darvish," Washington said of the club's prized offseason pickup. "I don't know the date, but it was Boston. He found Yu Darvish then, and he's been Yu Darvish since. He was searching to find what he was capable of doing over here. And I think he realizes now that competing in a relaxed, trusting and believing, that there was something he was searching for all year and he finally found it. Which is what he is when he's at his best, which is what all pitchers are when they're at their best. It's not just those adjectives I've described as Yu Darvish. That's pitchers, period, when they're at their best."

The 26-year-old is 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 29 starts and 191 1-3 innings in his first major league season after a stellar career in Japan. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has 221 strikeouts to just 89 walks and was an All-Star.

He won his final four decisions and hasn't lost in six starts since Aug. 17.

Washington met with Darvish after his Aug. 6 start at Boston, a 9-2 loss in which he was tagged for six earned runs and 11 hits in 6 2-3 innings with nine strikeouts and four walks. Darvish has lost only once since, at Toronto on Aug. 17.

"Mainly, it's mental. I'm pitching with more of a strong mind and with confidence," Darvish said. "We had a conversation (in Boston). But we didn't talk in depth about pitching."

Darvish won his first four decisions under the huge hype of his first season in the big leagues. Before being selected an All-Star, the diplomatic pitcher insisted his numbers needed to be on par with the best in the game to earn consideration.

Darvish -- with his rock star status from Japan still ever present at spring training -- arrived at the team's Surprise, Ariz., spring site with his shaggy hair tinted orange and a dark goatee. His every move was monitored for months, and still is.

Darvish signed a 56 million, six-year contract, and the Rangers paid his Japanese club 51.7 million just to acquire him.

"I keep saying it, the guy was under tremendous pressure coming over here, learning everything, making adjustments," Washington said. "It took that point for him to find the adjustments he had to make to become what he always knew he was and we knew he was, and he found it. And that would be no different if it was any other pitcher who's a pretty good pitcher making adjustments."

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.