Archive for April, 2010

Manchester Meltdown and Mickleson’s Masters

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

In a little over a week, Man Utd lost to Chelsea and more or less conceded the premiership title to their arch rivals. A few days later they inexplicably blew a 3 goal lead in the second leg at home to  Bayern Munich which brought their participation in the Champions League to an abrupt end. The national media attached a lot of the blame for their loss to Bayern on the decision to play Wayne Rooney when he was clearly not match fit, and to a lesser extent on the sending off of their young Brazilian full back, Rafael. They were admittedly mitigating factors in the result, but to my mind the real problem was Utd’s inablility to defend responsibly.

 The rot set in when they committed a schoolboy error by conceding a goal immediatley before halftime. This understandably lifted the Germans who had been completley outplayed in the first half.  I’m sure Van de Saar was disappointed in allowing a shot to pass him from such a sharp angle and Michael Carrick was left wondering what happened to the much vaunted center back pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic.

Utd came out for the second half  displaying a body language which intimated they were no longer up for the task. From the kick off the Germans grasped the initiative while Utd adopted the tactics of defending their precarious lead. If this was their intention they needed Ferdinand and Vidic to be at the top of their game but they were diabolical. When Rafael was sent off, Utd made a couple of substitutions to bring on John O’ Shea as a replacement at full back. O’Shea was returning from a long injury and understandably was clearly off the pace.

Utd couldn’t get to grips with Bayern’s tactics of Ribbery and Robben attacking from deep positions along the flanks. They didn’t attempt to beat Utd’s defenders along the byelines but merely played cross balls in front of Utd’s back four which were constantly picked up by Bayern’s midfield. Robben was completely unmarked when he scored Bayern’s decisive second goal. He and Ribbery continued to give Utd’s defence nightmares who seeemed oblivious to where Bayern’s attacking threat was coming from.  Ferdinand’s appears to have slowed since his back injury and Vidic looked disinterested at times which is quite  a transformation from last season when they formed the cornerstone of Utd’s successful campaign. The  Carling Cup  could be the only silverware sitting in Utd’s trophy cabinet at the end of the season.

In contrast Lee Westwood didn’t blow his lead on the final day of the Masters; Phil Mickelson won the tournament by executing strokes of genius to shoot a 67.  Mickelson’s second shot from the pine straw under the trees was magical. From 200 yards he landed the ball 3 feet from the pin with a six iron while his birdie putt on the par 3 twelfth was an indicator on who  would be  adorning a green jacket at tournament’s end.

  Historically, Mickelson would be viewed as a “cavalier” to Westwood’s “roundhead.” Westwood may concede that he attempted to play safe to protect his lead, and by comparison to his first three rounds there could be a case to answer. Nevertheless he keeps knocking on the door at major championships and a first major could be within his grasp. However, he is a member of  a current generation of English golfers which include Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Justin Rose, who seem destined never to win a major because they lack the nous to put four good rounds together.

A word on Tiger Woods. His fourth place finish was truly remarkable considering he hadn’t played competitive golf in over five months over which time his personal life and  reputation had been ripped to shreads. I have never liked Tiger as a person or supported his attempt to surpass Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 majors. I also resent the media stuffing Tiger mania down our throats at any given opportunity, but I respect the golfer Tiger Woods; nothing more.

Some concluding thoughts on The Masters: elitism rears its ugly head once a ball is struck in Masters week. I’m not referring to the ninety odd millionaires that play on the PGA tour every week, but it’s the sancitmonious bunch of  windbags that make up Augusta’s organizing committee that get my goat. Who elected Billy Payne Morals Protector of The South? There’s a saying in America that every man is created equal, but it does help if you come from old money. Augusta is the epitomy of a class society which supposedly doesn’t exist in America. The only difference in the class culture between America and Britain would be bloodline superseded by a money line and lots of it.  Why are spectators called patrons at The Masters? Why does CBS persist in piping in music from a cheap funeral parlor and why do they dress the caddies in white overalls making them look like a bunch of painting contractors. Finally why does Jim Nantz deem it necessary to talk in a cathedral hush? Answers please on a postcard. See you at Augusta next year.

Bobby’s Last Hurrah

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Another baseball season opened last Sunday night (4th April) and predictably ESPN televised the season opener between The Yankees and The Red Sox. Meanwhile The Atlanta Braves staged their first game on Monday afternoon against The Chicago Cubs which always proves to be an entertaining series. The Braves’ new season is significant for two reasons; firstly it’s Bobby Cox’s last season as manager and secondly it’s the first season in the big leagues for the much vaunted rookie Jason Heyward.

 The season opener drew a record day crowd of more thatn 53,000 to Turner Field, but it looked like a disappointing afternoon was in store for the crowd basking in the warm sunshine when The Cubs  raced into a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the first. Aided by a couple of bloop singles and a wild throw The Braves levelled the scores and then Jason Heyward took over. He fended off two balls inside and then  hit a 3 run homer to right center field to send the capacity crowd into raptures. Welcome to the big leagues Mr. Heywood.  The table was set and The Braves ran out comfortable winners 16-5 with nearly everyone making a contribution. But does one emphatic win over The Cubs mean we can return to the playoffs with the roster cobbled together by general manager Frank Wren?

 Let’s take a look at the starting lineup, the pitching rotation, the bullpen and bench:

  1. Nate McClouth          Acquired from the Pirates in a trade early last season. Hit for an average .256, HRs 20, RBIs 70. Troubled with his vision last season, but doesn’t generate much excitement with an average glove.         
  2. Martin Prado              Replaced one of Bobby’s poster children, Kelly Johnson, during the second half of the 2009 season hitting for an average .307. Much better glove than Johnson and he is definitely an upgrade for the new season.
  3. Chipper Jones            Chipper’s season average dipped to .264 last season dropping 10 points from  a career high in 2009. Very injury prone with the latest being an ingrowing toenail! He appeared in 128 games last season but he needs to play between 140-150 games if the team is to make the playoffs. Two questions: is he in decline and can he remain relatively healthy?
  4. Troy Glaus                    Played in only 14 games last season following shoulder surgery. Aged 33, his best season was in 2000 hitting 47 homers and a batting average .284. He played in 151 games in 2008 hittting 27 bombs with a season average .270. Normally plays third base with very limited experience at first where the Braves intend to play him. Big gamble healthwise and position.
  5. Brian McCann              If his vision problems have been finally resolved, he’s an awesome hitter/catcher. A bit suspect on attempting to throw out base stealers but at 25 has yet to reach his peak.
  6. Yunel Escobar             Competent short stop who could develop into a very good all round player if he matured a little. Has an ego the size of Stone Mountain and the temperament of Denis Rodman.
  7. Jason Heywood            He’s 20 years old and better judges than me are convinced he will become a very good player.  Notwithstanding  his great debut don’t expect too much too soon. Trouble with shin splints concern me.
  8. Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera  Diaz is an adequate platoon player at best and Cabrera is a reasonable utility player who can play all outfield positions. I would have been happier if the Braves had acquired Jermain Dye , a veteran hitter and former Brave who remains a free agent.


Starting Pitching Rotation:

  1. Derek Lowe:     The Braves overpaid for him at $15 million a year. He’s 36 years old and he will never be a 20 game winner again. At best he should be No4 or 5 in the rotation and not the ace.
  2. Jair Jurrjens:     had a great season in 2009, with a 14-10 win-loss record and an ERA of  2.87. I’m hoping his tendinitis in spring training was a blip on the radar screen and he is 100% fit .
  3. Tim Hudson:     Tim Hudson is returning to the big leagues following “Tommy John” surgery. His best win-loss ratio was in 2000 with 20-6 when he was with The Oakland A’s. His best ERA was in 2003, while his best stats with The Braves was in 2007 with 16-10 win/loss ratio and an ERA of 3.17. He’s 34 and I am concerned that his best days could be  behind him.
  4. Tommy Hanson: Quite simply he is the future of the franchise. Had a 11-4 record in his first season in 2009 with an impressive 2.89 ERA. More of the same this season please. 
  5. Kawakami: Another over priced acquisition from Japan. General managers don’t seem to learn that pitching in Japan and America are quite different standards. Capable of improvement on 2009 and could prove to be an adequate 5th starter.


  • Billy Wagner (closer)
  • Takashi Saito
  • Eric O’Flaherty
  • Peter Moylan
  • Kris Medlen
  • Jesse Chavez
  • JoJo Reyes

Wagner is  a futre hall of famer but is coming back from elbow surgery and is 38 years old. Meanwhile, Saito is also returning from injury, and is longer in the tooth than Wagner at 40 years old.


  • Eric Henke
  • David Ross
  • Infante
  • Brooks Conrad

On paper, we have a serviceable bench.

In essence the bottom line revolves around the health of key players: Chipper, Troy Glaus, Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner. Vazquez was our best pitcher last season but was traded to The Yankees for Cabrera and a couple of minor league pitchers. Okay he will be a free agent at the end of the season but it didn’t show much ambition on the management’s part.  We also lost our closer, Soriano, and set up guy Gonzalez to free agency but I don’t believe that will hurt us providing Wagner and Saito defy advancing years. I’m concerned we lack a big bat in the lineup and as usual lack speed around the bases. Consequently we may run out of steam by season’s end and miss the playoffs for a fifth successive year. Please prove me wrong.