Yu Darvish is proving to be the real deal

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Yu Darvish is proving to be the real deal

From Comcast SportsNet
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Expectations for Yu Darvish were every bit as big as the contract he signed to move from his native Japan. He continues to meet and perhaps even exceed them. Darvish pitched 7 2-3 strong innings and Adrian Beltre had a two-run homer to help the Texas Rangers beat the Oakland Athletics 4-1 on Wednesday night. "He was very efficient and made them swing the bat," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "Broke his cutter out tonight and moved his fastball around the zone." Darvish (6-1) gave up one run and four hits while striking out seven to win his sixth game in seven decisions and give a weary Rangers bullpen a rest. After giving up a run in the first, Darvish settled down and retired 11 of the last 15 batters he faced. He lowered his ERA to 2.60. The Rangers committed more than 107 million to acquire Darvish. Mike Adams struck out Johnny Gomes, who represented the tying run, for the final out in the eighth. Joe Nathan struck out the side in the ninth his eighth save. "No matter what the situation, I try to throw as many inning as I can and go as long as possible," Darvish said through an interpreter when asked if he was aware the bullpen needed some downtime after long man Scott Feldman's spot start Monday, middle man Robbie Ross and a Alexi Ogando's tireless work over the last week. "I was able to throw with less effort," Darvish said. "Getting taken out in the middle of the eighth is something that I'm not completely satisfied with." Craig Gentry and Elvis Andrus each had two hits, including run-scoring singles in a decisive fourth inning. Gentry beat out an infield single to third to score Nelson Cruz. Oakland rookie pitcher Tommy Milone (5-3) gave up four runs in seven innings, holding the Rangers' offense down until the fourth. "I thought he threw the ball extremely well," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "And really, if we get the ball over to first base on the Gentry ground ball, it's a 2-1 game. "I thought, considering it's his first time pitching here to that lineup, I don't know how he could have done much better." The Rangers sent nine players to the plate in a four-run fourth inning that was started by Josh Hamilton's infield single and Beltre's home run. Gentry and Andrus added run-scoring hits. Hamilton, who extended his hitting streak to an AL season-best 16 games, had two hits and a run scored. Beltre has tormented Oakland pitching. His homer was his ninth against the A's in the last two seasons. Josh Reddick gave Oakland a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. He struck out in his next three at-bats. "He has been as advertized," Washington said. "He's a strikeout pitcher, and he's been that." Notes: Michael Young was out of the Rangers lineup, the third consecutive day manager Ron Washington gave at least one of the regulars a break. "One more guy, then I've done everyone." That would be slugger Josh Hamilton. Washington said before the game he wasn't sure when Hamilton would get a break, and was waiting to see what happened in the game. ... Milone entered the game allowing a .175 average to batters leading off an inning, fifth lowest in the AL. ... Ogando has not allowed a run in 15 1-3 consecutive innings. He did not pitch Wedneday.

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Schmaltz-Toews-Panik.

There might not be a hotter line in hockey right now than the Blackhawks' trio of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. They combined for five goals and five assists — highlighted by a hat trick and five-point effort from Toews — in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Minnesota, and were hot before that. Toews has 21 points in his last 12 games. Schmaltz has seven points in his last six, while Panik has nine points in his past six. Is Joel Quenneville simply riding the hot hand or could this be a line that sticks together for a while even when they inevitably cool off?

2. Can power play get going again?

The Blackhawks are 0-for-8 on the power play in their last three games after converting on six of their previous 14 attempts. They went 2-for-4 during their last meeting, which resulted in a 4-3 victory. Arizona has allowed at least a power play goal in six of their last 10 games, including three of their last four, and owns a bottom-five penalty kill unit at 77.1 percent. If that area gets going for the Blackhawks, look out. 

3. Marian Hossa's recent success vs. Arizona.

Hossa has six goals and three assists in his last six games against the Coyotes dating back to 2014-15, recording at least a point in each of those games, and helping lead the Blackhawks to a 5-0-1 record. He's scored a goal in each of those last three, and will look to continue his success against an Arizona team whose 49 points ranked second-to-last in the NHL.

4. Martin Hanzal heating up as trade deadline nears.

The 30-year-old center has five goals in his last six contests, and will be a hot commodity over the next week as the March 1 trade deadline approaches. He could be an option for the Blackhawks if they want to bolster their center depth, but it's looking more and more unlikely as the asking price will be high and there will be many bidders. Expect a tweak more than a large addition.

5. Artemi Panarin quietly heating up.

Due to the emergence of Schmaltz-Toews-Panik that has been earning all the attention, Panarin is flying under the radar as of late. He has nine points in his last eight games that's gotten lost in the shuffle, and is tied for 16th in the league in scoring. He's only three points away from re-entering the top-10. And there's a chance he could have a big night. In five career games against Arizona, the 25-year-old Russian winger has two goals and six assists. That's an average of 1.60 points per game.

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