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SURPRISE, Arizona — During the first week of spring training, Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux returned to the team’s clubhouse after watching a live batting practice session and declared: “I just saw the best player on the field.” The room of coaches and assorted personnel perked up. The Rangers came into camp off a World Series title but with questionable starting pitching depth, and they were hopeful Maddux, a coach for 20 seasons, had unearthed his latest gem on the mound.

Wyatt Langford,” Maddux said.

Langford is not a pitcher. He is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound power-hitting outfielder, and for a pitching coach — particularly one of Maddux’s stature — to gravitate so quickly to Langford provided the latest evidence that the defending champions’ offense could be even better this year.

Maddux’s answer surprised no one internally. After sliding to Texas at the No. 4 pick in a loaded 2023 draft, Langford, now 22, spent two months destroying four minor league levels, hitting .360/.480/.677 with 10 home runs in 200 plate appearances. He arrived this spring “in real competition to make the club,” according to Texas general manager Chris Young, and only the Rangers’ outfield excellence stands between Langford and an every-day big league role.

“I know if I do what I can do,” Langford said, “they’ll give me the opportunity to showcase that.”

Langford’s right-handed swing has impressed the Rangers so thoroughly that he was under substantial consideration to make his major league debut during the playoffs last year. Toward the end of the regular season, with right fielder Adolis Garcia injured, the Rangers discussed promoting Langford to fill out an already-dangerous lineup. They weren’t afraid of his age or inexperience. As ably as rookie Evan Carter was already garnering headlines with his impressive play, adding Langford to Carter and center fielder Leody Taveras would’ve provided a needed offensive boost.

Garcia returned, of course, going on a legendary hot streak that netted him American League Championship Series MVP honors. But Langford remained around the team during the postseason, joining the Rangers’ so-called “stay-ready squad” in case of injuries. Quickly, he distinguished himself.

The group would gather at Globe Life Field in the morning and take live at-bats. Among those on the mound were Jack Leiter, Owen White and Cole Winn, the best pitching prospects in the Rangers’ organization. Danny Duffy, a World Series champion for the 2015 Kansas City Royals with Young as his teammate, was there and already had a deep respect for Langford after playing with him in Double-A during Duffy’s attempt at a return to the big leagues.

“I got him out once, and it was the first pitch I ever threw him,” Duffy said. “It was a changeup. I didn’t want to challenge him right there. Ball was flying. I hadn’t given up a homer all year, and he wasn’t about to be my first, but he just missed one. Hit it like 400 feet in the air to the middle of center field. If he would’ve clipped it, it would’ve gone to the Embassy Suites.”

Future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, then trying to return from an injury, didn’t know who Langford was before he faced him during a live batting practice in October. Scherzer learned quickly when Langford hammered a double off the wall. As the month went on and the Rangers cruised to the AL pennant, Langford continued to flabbergast onlookers, consistently barreling balls at 110 mph-plus, territory typically reserved for elite major league hitters. While the stay-ready crew was sent home after Game 1 of the World Series, Garcia’s oblique injury suffered in Game 3 reignited the chatter among Rangers personnel to summon Langford.

“He was right there in the conversation,” Texas bench coach Donnie Ecker said. “And if he did play, he was going right in the 3-hole.”

“I don’t know if he would’ve hit third, to be honest,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said, “but watching him in the live BPs was impressive. The numbers, what he was doing, was incredible. You can’t ignore that. And then you get to know the man and he’s got no fear. And you saw what Carter did. And so, we had that to go on too that, hey, these guys are different, these young kids. And so, we didn’t think he’d be afraid. That’s why it was legit, why he was with us.

“Looking back, I mean, it actually would’ve been pretty cool to see.”

Ultimately, Texas chose to give veteran Travis Jankowski the left-field slot and elevate utility man Ezequiel Duran to the active roster. Both had been there all year. They were capable, game-tested. With a 2-1 lead in the Series and home-field advantage, the Rangers didn’t feel the need to push the envelope. The prospect of Langford in the lineup, though, remained in their thoughts. During the celebration after the Rangers’ championship-clinching Game 5, one coach, already looking forward to 2024, said: “And we’re going to have Langford next year, too.”

“It wasn’t just the performance or the results in the minor leagues,” Young said. “It was the process metrics, which we value, that suggested he could come up and have success. His exit velos were extremely high. His chase rate was extremely low. He was walking. He was showing elite discipline. It’s everything we saw when we drafted him — and he’d also performed on the biggest stage in college baseball.

“When you take that into account, the moment wasn’t going to be too big for him.”

Langford had laid waste to college baseball over the previous two years, going from a backup catcher who got four at-bats as a freshman at Florida to arguably the most productive hitter in the country. As a sophomore, Langford hit an SEC-leading 26 home runs with a 1.166 OPS. His follow-up was even better: While his home run total dropped to 21, Langford hit 19 more doubles as a junior and walked 20 more times while maintaining his strikeout rate. His season ended just one win short of a College World Series title.

As much as he would’ve enjoyed being the first position player to participate in the College World Series and the World Series in the same season, Langford saw 2023 as a grand success — one he spent the offseason trying to replicate as he trained with hopes of convincing the Rangers he would be ready this spring. Because Langford understands that dominating in college and the minors guarantees nothing at the major league level, he has used the early goings of spring training to pick the brains of veterans Marcus Semien, Nathaniel Lowe and Josh Jung — Langford’s spring roommate — to better understand the fundamentals of playing his first 162-game season.

“The biggest goal is just to learn as much as I can, make sure to just be myself and go out there and play and have fun,” Langford said. “If it happens, then awesome. If not, then I’ll go to wherever they send me to and do the best I can.

“I know if I do what I can do, they’ll give me the opportunity to showcase that.”

When he gets that chance might depend on the Rangers’ needs. With Jung and shortstop Corey Seager sidelined, they could use their 26th roster spot for a utility man to open the season. What’s clear is that the Rangers won’t keep Langford down just to keep him down — not with MLB’s rules that award a full year of service time to top rookies and incentivize teams to promote them by giving draft picks.

Especially if Rangers coaches continue to see him as the best player on the field.

“He will tell us when he’s ready,” Young said, “and if that’s now, it’s now.”

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NHL playoff watch: Who will win the Presidents’ Trophy?

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NHL playoff watch: Who will win the Presidents' Trophy?

As we’ve written previously in this space, the winner of the Presidents’ Trophy is by no means guaranteed a Stanley Cup championship. Since the trophy was first awarded in 1985-86, only eight teams have won the regular-season points race and the Cup in the same campaign, the most recent being the Chicago Blackhawks in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

But it’s nevertheless an impressive accomplishment and guarantees home-ice advantage throughout the postseason to the team that claims the crown.

So who’s winning it this season?

Following wins yesterday, the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars continue to lead the pace. The Rangers are at 112 points and 42 regulation wins through 81 games. They’ll close out their regular season on Monday against the Ottawa Senators, and a win of any kind in that game clinches the Presidents’ Trophy for them.

The Stars have 111 points and 40 regulation wins through 81 games. Dallas will play its final game on Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues, and will know prior to opening puck drop whether it can catch New York.

The Carolina Hurricanes, who skate against the Blackhawks on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NHL Power Play on ESPN+), have 109 points and 43 regulation wins through 80 games. After Sunday’s matchup against one lottery team, their final game Tuesday is also against a team in the bottom four of the league, the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Canes are also hoping for a Rangers loss to the Sens to make this all interesting.

Finally, the Boston Bruins have 109 points and 36 regulation wins following their win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night. Much like the other clubs, they’re hoping for the Rangers to lose to Ottawa to make things more interesting; the Bruins skate against the Washington Capitals Monday, followed by those very same Senators on Tuesday to close out their regular season. Given their regulation wins deficit to all these other teams, the Bruins will need to win out and hope the other teams cap out at 112 or below.

As we traverse the final stretch of the regular season, it’s time to check in on all the playoff races — along with the teams jockeying for position in the 2024 NHL draft lottery.

Note: Playoff chances are via Stathletes.

Jump ahead:
Current playoff matchups
Sunday’s schedule
Saturday’s scores
Expanded standings
Race for No. 1 pick

Current playoff matchups

Eastern Conference

A1 Boston Bruins vs. WC1 Tampa Bay Lightning
A2 Florida Panthers vs. A3 Toronto Maple Leafs
M1 New York Rangers vs. WC2 Washington Capitals
M2 Carolina Hurricanes vs. M3 New York Islanders

Western Conference

C1 Dallas Stars vs. WC2 Vegas Golden Knights
C2 Winnipeg Jets vs. C3 Colorado Avalanche
P1 Vancouver Canucks vs. WC1 Nashville Predators
P2 Edmonton Oilers vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings


Sunday’s games

Note: All times ET. All games not on TNT or NHL Network are available via NHL Power Play, which is included in an ESPN+ subscription (local blackout restrictions apply).

Seattle Kraken at St. Louis Blues, 1 p.m. (TNT)
Colorado Avalanche at Vegas Golden Knights, 3:30 (TNT)
Carolina Hurricanes at Chicago Blackhawks, 6 p.m.
Arizona Coyotes at Calgary Flames, 8 p.m.


Saturday’s scoreboard

New York Rangers 3, New York Islanders 2 (SO)
Dallas Stars 3, Seattle Kraken 1
Winnipeg Jets 7, Colorado Avalanche 0
Florida Panthers 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
Philadelphia Flyers 1, New Jersey Devils 0
Washington Capitals 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Detroit Red Wings 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
Ottawa Senators 5, Montreal Canadiens 4 (SO)
Boston Bruins 6, Pittsburgh Penguins 4
Nashville Predators 6, Columbus Blue Jackets 4
Vancouver Canucks 3, Edmonton Oilers 1
Los Angeles Kings 3, Anaheim Ducks 1
Minnesota Wild 6, San Jose Sharks 2


Expanded standings

Atlantic Division

Points: 109
Regulation wins: 36
Playoff position: A1
Games left: 2
Points pace: 112
Next game: @ WSH (Monday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 108
Regulation wins: 41
Playoff position: A2
Games left: 1
Points pace: 109
Next game: vs. TOR (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 102
Regulation wins: 33
Playoff position: A3
Games left: 2
Points pace: 105
Next game: @ FLA (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 96
Regulation wins: 36
Playoff position: WC1
Games left: 2
Points pace: 98
Next game: vs. BUF (Monday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 89
Next game: vs. MTL (Monday)
Playoff chances: 36.9%
Tragic number: 4

Points: 82
Regulation wins: 32
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 1
Points pace: 83
Next game: @ TB (Monday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 76
Regulation wins: 24
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 78
Next game: @ NYR (Monday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 74
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 76
Next game: @ DET (Monday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Metropolitan Division

Points: 112
Regulation wins: 42
Playoff position: M1
Games left: 1
Points pace: 113
Next game: vs. OTT (Monday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 109
Regulation wins: 43
Playoff position: M2
Games left: 2
Points pace: 112
Next game: @ CHI (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 90
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: M3
Games left: 2
Points pace: 92
Next game: @ NJ (Monday)
Playoff chances: 92.7%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: WC2
Games left: 2
Points pace: 89
Next game: vs. BOS (Monday)
Playoff chances: 18.7%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 1
Points pace: 88
Next game: vs. WSH (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 9.3%
Tragic number: 3

Points: 86
Regulation wins: 31
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 88
Next game: vs. NSH (Monday)
Playoff chances: 42.4%
Tragic number: 3

Points: 81
Regulation wins: 33
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 1
Points pace: 82
Next game: vs. NYI (Monday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 64
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 1
Points pace: 65
Next game: vs. CAR (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Central Division

Points: 111
Regulation wins: 40
Playoff position: C1
Games left: 1
Points pace: 112
Next game: vs. STL (Wednesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 106
Regulation wins: 44
Playoff position: C2
Games left: 2
Points pace: 109
Next game: vs. SEA (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 104
Regulation wins: 41
Playoff position: C3
Games left: 2
Points pace: 107
Next game: @ VGK (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 99
Regulation wins: 38
Playoff position: WC1
Games left: 1
Points pace: 100
Next game: @ PIT (Monday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 89
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 91
Next game: vs. SEA (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 85
Regulation wins: 31
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 87
Next game: @ LA (Monday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 75
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 77
Next game: @ CGY (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 17
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Points pace: 53
Next game: vs. CAR (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Pacific Division

Points: 107
Regulation wins: 43
Playoff position: P1
Games left: 2
Points pace: 110
Next game: vs. CGY (Tuesday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 102
Regulation wins: 38
Playoff position: P2
Games left: 3
Points pace: 106
Next game: vs. SJ (Monday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 97
Regulation wins: 37
Playoff position: P3
Games left: 2
Points pace: 99
Next game: vs. MIN (Monday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 94
Regulation wins: 33
Playoff position: WC2
Games left: 3
Points pace: 98
Next game: vs. COL (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 79
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Points pace: 82
Next game: @ STL (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 77
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Points pace: 80
Next game: vs. ARI (Sunday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 57
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 1
Points pace: 58
Next game: @ VGK (Thursday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Points pace: 48
Next game: @ EDM (Monday)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

p — clinched Presidents’ Trophy
y — clinched division
x — clinched playoff berth
e — eliminated from playoff contention


Race for the No. 1 pick

The NHL uses a draft lottery to determine the order of the first round, so the team that finishes in last place is not guaranteed the No. 1 selection. As of 2021, a team can move up a maximum of 10 spots if it wins the lottery, so only 11 teams are eligible for the draw for the No. 1 pick. Full details on the process can be found here. Sitting No. 1 on the draft board for this summer is Macklin Celebrini, a freshman at Boston University.

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 17

Points: 57
Regulation wins: 20

Points: 64
Regulation wins: 20

Points: 74
Regulation wins: 20

Points: 75
Regulation wins: 27

Points: 76
Regulation wins: 24

Points: 77
Regulation wins: 30

Points: 79
Regulation wins: 27

Points: 81
Regulation wins: 33

Points: 82
Regulation wins: 32

Points: 85
Regulation wins: 31

Points: 86
Regulation wins: 31

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 27

Points: 87
Regulation wins: 30

Points: 89
Regulation wins: 30

* The Penguins’ first-round pick was traded to the Sharks as part of the Erik Karlsson trade. However, it is top-10 protected.

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Frozen Four: Denver blanks Boston College for 10th national title

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Frozen Four: Denver blanks Boston College for 10th national title

After not winning a game when scoring fewer than three goals all season, Denver did it four games in a row en route to its record 10th NCAA men’s hockey national championship.

The Pioneers shut down Boston College, the No. 1 overall seed, 2-0 in the title game Saturday night at St. Paul, Minnesota.

Goalie Matt Davis had 34 saves in handing the Eagles their first shutout of the season. Davis finished the tournament with 138 saves on 141 shots (.979 save percentage) and a 0.85 goals-against average.

Jared Wright got the Pioneers on the board at 9:42 of the second period and Denver made it 2-0 just more than five minutes later when Rieger Lorenz converted a beautiful feed from freshman defenseman Zeev Buium.

Denver won its second national title in three years and its 10th overall, the most of all time. The Frozen Four teams — Denver, BC, Boston University and Michigan — have won a combined 29 national titles, with Denver’s 10 the most all time. Michigan has won nine titles, with Hockey East rivals BC and BU winning five each. BC’s last title came in 2012, BU’s in 2009 and Michigan’s in 1998.

Every game of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, including the Frozen Four and championship game, will be available on ESPN+. Subscribe to watch!

Frozen Four schedule

All times Eastern

at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota

play

0:25

Denver’s Rieger Lorenz rips slap shot for nice goal

Rieger Lorenz rips a slap shot to the upper right corner to give Denver a 2-0 lead in the NCAA Frozen Four Championship vs. Boston College.

National semifinals

Denver 2, Boston University 1 (OT)

Boston College 4, Michigan 0

National championship game
Denver 2, BC 0

play

1:08

Tristan Broz sends Denver to final with OT winner in Frozen Four thriller

Tristan Broz takes it himself for an overtime goal to defeat Boston University and send Denver to the national championship game.

Regionals recap

Springfield (Massachusetts) Regional

Semifinals

Denver 2, UMass 1 (2OT)
Cornell 3, Maine 1

Final

Denver 2, Cornell 1

Denver wins Springfield Regional


Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Regional

Semifinals

Boston University 6, RIT 3
Minnesota 3, Omaha 2

Final

Boston University 6, Minnesota 3

Boston University wins Sioux Falls Regional


Providence (Rhode Island) Regional

Semifinals

Boston College 6, Michigan Tech 1
Quinnipiac 3, Wisconsin 2 (OT)

Final

Boston College 5, Quinnipiac 4 (OT)

Boston College wins Providence Regional


Maryland Heights (Missouri) Regional

Semifinals

Michigan State 5, Western Michigan 4 (OT)
Michigan 4, North Dakota 3

Final

Michigan 5, Michigan State 2

Michigan wins Maryland Heights Regional

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McKinstry commits 3-run E, then allows 3-run HR

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McKinstry commits 3-run E, then allows 3-run HR

DETROIT — Third baseman Zach McKinstry accounted for six runs allowed in a bizarre 12th inning, as the Tigers dropped a lengthy 11-5 decision to the Minnesota Twins in the opening game of a doubleheader on Saturday.

Stuck in a 4-4 game in the 12th, the Twins took advantage of a bases-loaded walk and a three-run error by McKinstry at third, when Ryan Jeffers hit a grounder that went through his legs.

Then, needing pitchers on a long day when his club had already used five, Detroit manager AJ Hinch called on McKinstry to take the mound and help the Tigers get out of the inning. McKinstry proceeded to walk Manuel Margot before allowing a three-run homer to Matt Wallner.

“The 12th was a mess of an inning,” Hinch said. “The game, we had tons of opportunities. In the new rule of extra innings, when you hold the opponent in the top half of the inning to no runs, you’ve got to score. That’s where you have to put the game away. Those missed opportunities are missed wins.”

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli lauded Jeffers’ effort in what ended up being a 12-pitch at-bat that led to the error, before adding that “the ball was hit hard, and it took a funny hop. That’s why it kind of led to what it did. Obviously, that was a huge moment of separation for us.”

The Twins ultimately scored eight runs in extra innings, the most in franchise history since Aug. 1, 1970, which also came in a victory over the Tigers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“We had to do a lot of good, crisp baseball things today,” Baldelli said. “Our pitching led the way today. … It couldn’t have worked out much better.”

Detroit reliever Alex Lange (0-1), who loaded the bases before McKinstry’s error, took the loss, ending Detroit’s two-game winning streak. He walked Willi Castro to start the 12th and Christian Vazquez bunted, but first baseman Spencer Torkelson‘s throw to third was late, setting the stage for the error.

The Tigers finished Game 1 with 17 strikeouts.

“That’s not a recipe for more runs,” Hinch said. “We’re certainly more of a contact team than we’ve shown the last few games. We want that to be just a little bit of an anomaly. But it’s been the story the last couple of days.”

Tigers starter Kenta Maeda allowed two runs — one earned — on five hits in six innings against his old team. He struck out five without walking a batter. Jorge Alcala (1-0) picked up the win after allowing a run in the 12th.

Minnesota’s Joe Ryan struck out a career-high 12 batters in six innings but gave up three runs — one earned — on six hits and a walk.

The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the first when Kerry Carpenter homered. Martin’s RBI double made it 2-1 in the third.

Maeda had a chance at an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play in the fifth, but his throw sailed into center field to put runners on the corners. Santana grounded to first, but the Tigers again failed to turn the double play, allowing Martin to score the tying run from third.

Colt Keith‘s RBI single put the Tigers up 3-2 in the sixth, but Jeffers tied the game with a pinch-hit homer off Shelby Miller in the eighth. He also drove in Minnesota’s 11th-inning run with a single.

In the second game, Edouard Julien and Willi Castro homered as the Twins completed the doubleheader sweep with a 4-1 victory. McKinstry did not start the nightcap, but struck out swinging in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter.

“That’s a bad sign, if one game like that carried into the other,” Hinch said, when asked if Game 1’s disappointment led to Game 2’s result. “I don’t think it did. This team is too resilient. … I don’t think that’s what the DNA of this team is.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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