This week in: English Football – City lose more ground

I'm just glad so many City fans weren't there to see their team fight

Pop quiz, hotshot.  You’re watching your favourite team in a league game at home.  Thus far this season, they have won all 14 of the Premiership matches they have played on their own turf and are competing with their fiercest rivals to win their first title since 1968.  Your team is 3-1 down, against a club below them in the table, and there are only 10 minutes left to play.  Do you: stay and support your side and cheer them on as they try to come back?;  or do you head for the exits in frustration that you might fail to win every single game at home, but at least you can beat the traffic?  WHAT DO YOU DO?!

Last Saturday, streams of Manchester City fans chose the latter option, and made their way out of the stadium as City trailed Sunderland by two goals late on.  I gave City supporters a hard time a few weeks ago for the lack of enthusiasm they showed in their win over Bolton, and they are certainly not the only team to have fans leave before the end of game when they are behind.  I even know how long it can take to get out of the car park at the City of Manchester Stadium – it took me 45 minutes just to get onto a road after a Monday night game there back in 2006, and I still had the 200 mile drive back to London to tackle.  But leaving a game early might save a few minutes for supporters, but a football game is only 90 minutes long – City fans missed their side coming back to earn a point against Sunderland with a 3-3 draw.  Perhaps that will not be enough for them, since they are now 5 points behind Manchester United with only 7 games left to play, but the hundreds who left the Etihad Stadium before the final whistle should have shown the same support as the thousands who stayed till the end.

Manchester United, despite continued success over the last two decades, show no such signs of complacency and they were relentless against Blackburn on Monday – eventually winning thanks to two late goals from Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.  This Sunday could end up being the day when the title race is decided – United have a home game against Queens Park Rangers, while Manchester City take their recent poor away for to the Emirates to play third placed Arsenal.  If there is a further three-point swing in favour of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, then City may well end up the season trophyless, and their manager, Roberto Mancini, will be looking for a new place of employment.   Continue reading

2012 MLB Season Preview

Albert Pujols moved to the Angels during the offseason

Today is Opening Day* in Major League Baseball, with the first game between the reigning champion St. Louis Cardinals and the newly named Miami Marlins – in the first regular season game to be played at Marlins Park**. In their infinite wisdom, Major League Baseball decided that the excitement of Game 162 last year should not be repeated, and added a second wild card place in each league, starting this season.  The two Wild Card teams will face each other in a one game playoff, the winner earning a berth in the five game Divisional Series.  If this had been the case last season, the epic collapses by the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves would not have meant anything, as both would have progressed for the one-game matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals respectively.

*Well, actually the season started last week with a two game series between the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners (which they split) in Japan – but still, today is the real Opening Day.

**A game that is in the 7th inning as I am about to post this, with the Marlins yet to record a hit.***

*** No talking in the dugout! You mention a no-hitter and it ends, Reyes got Miami’s first hit of the season just after I wrote this.

Albert Pujols moved to the Angels during the offseason

AL West

The amount of attention that the Angels have been getting must bother the Texas Rangers – who have won the American League Pennant for the last two years.  Last year’s devastating World Series loss, when they were twice just one out away from winning it all, will be hard for the Rangers to recover from, and they have also lost last year’s pitching staff ace, CJ Wilson, to the Angels.  Texas spent a lot of money to sign Yu Darvish from the Japanese leagues and they will need him to perform as a number 1 starter if they are to have a chance of progressing in October.  The rest of the pitching staff should be solid, though their number 2 starter, Colby Lewis, gave up 22 home runs at Rangers Ballpark in 2011. They have a balanced lineup which should keep them in a lot of games, but Mike Napoli is unlikely to repeat last year’s numbers (.320 Batting Average, 30 Home Runs) and Josh Hamilton has been hampered with injuries since the post-season.  I think a combination of these factors will result in the Rangers staying at home this October, missing out on the opportunity to lose in the World Series for a third consecutive year.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim added Pujols during the offseason with the hope that it would improve their offense, which failed to support the excellent starting pitching they had last year. Having also signed CJ Wilson, that rotation has become even stronger – Jered Weaver is likely to be a Cy Young candidate again this year, plus Dan Haren and Ervin Santana both posted ERAs under 3.50 in 2011.  However, the Angels’ bullpen is unreliable and, outside of Pujols, their hitting is a definite weak spot.  It should be improved by the return of Kendrys Morales, who has missed almost two seasons with a fractured left ankle (obtained when he was jumping onto home plate to celebrate a walk-off home run), but with Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells likely to be two of their regular outfielders again this season, their offense has the potential to seriously hamper the Angels.

The other two teams in the division, the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners, must have considered giving up when Albert Pujols moved into the AL West. They already had to try to overhaul the two-time American League Champions, and now have to contend with one of the best hitters in baseball joining another divisional rival.  The A’s basically held up a white flag and traded away starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, as well as closer Andrew Bailey, for prospects.  They did sign Cuban outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes, though he has a tendency to swing at bad pitches and that might be exposed in the Major League.  Seattle did trade away one of their best young pitchers, Michael Pineda, to the New York Yankees, but they did receive the power-hitter, and top prospect, Jesus Montero, in return.  The Mariners were also able to make that move because of strength in depth in their farm system, with youngsters Danny Haltzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton all getting closer to breaking through to the big leagues.  Haltzen is likely to be in the rotation this season and, with Hisashi Iwakuma joining from Japan to be the number 2 pitcher behind ace Felix Hernandez, the Mariners could be a surprise team this year.  As well as Montero, Seattle have potentially great hitters at first base (Justin Smoak) and second (Dustin Ackeley), and Ichiro Suzuki is likely to improve back to his career averages, after a down year in 2011.  AL West Prediction: 1. Angels; 2. Mariners (2nd Wild Card). 3. Rangers; 4. A’s Continue reading

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 3 – Tea Leaves

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan 1964

Although this iconic anthem of Dylan’s was warning people of the changing times two years before the setting of the current season of Mad Men, it is only now that the main characters are beginning to realise that they’re in danger of being replaced by the younger generation.  Betty feels that she has been replaced by Megan; Roger by Pete Campbell; and the old Sterling Cooper with the more diverse and modern agency of SCDP.

The main focus of this episode – which marked the directorial debut of John Hamm – was Don’s ex-wife, Betty, who was absent from the two-hour premiere last week but returns to the show much heavier than the last time we saw her.  The writers were working around January Jones’ pregnancy with this storyline – but there were hints of her frustration at the end of last season when Betty tells Don that life with her new husband, Henry Francis, was not perfect.  Once the glamorous wife of Don Draper, envied by those around her in their quite suburban neighbourhood, now Betty is being given advice by her mother-in-law about diet pills.  When her trip to the doctor brings two shocking revelations to Betty – that there is a tumour on her thyroid, and her classification now is that of a “middle-aged woman” – she goes into a tailspin of panic.  With Henry not home when Betty gets back from the doctor, she calls Don who is the only person who knows what she wants to hear, that everything is going to be okay.  Her new husband only utters those words to her once the diagnosis comes back as benign, which does not calm Betty, rather has her return to focusing on her weight gain.  Henry, who replaced Don, is obviously still concerned about those roles being reversed again, as he is surprised that Betty had called her ex-husband about her health scare, and then tells his wife that there was noone on the phone when Don calls to check on her well-being.

Before being told that the tumour was not cancerous, Betty had been her tea leaves read by a woman who says that she has a great soul and is a rock, which is completely counter to how Betty feels.  She has a dream imagining her family in mourning after her death, with her mother-in-law taking her place as cook for the family, and, in the waking world, Betty is openly jealous of Megan – who she first describes as being Don’s girlfriend, and then as 20-years-old (when we learn later in the episode she is 26).  The final scene sees Betty sharing a moment with her daughter, Sally, with whom she has had an antagonistic relationship over the series.  However, this was not her seizing the day and trying to form a closer bond with Sally, rather it was an opportunity for Betty to feed her depression with her daughter’s leftover ice cream. Continue reading