European contention or relegation dogfight; how will Wolves do in the Premier League?

‘How will Wolves do?’ is one of the more intriguing questions as we approach the start of the Premier League season. After a Championship campaign where they were rarely troubled on their way to 99 points (let’s ignore the final day capitulation to bottom club Sunderland), will their frequently mentioned Portuguese links catapult them into the top half of the top tier and the edge of European contention – or, as is the case with so many promoted clubs, do they face an uphill struggle just to finish 17th?

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Slow starters; does history suggest the Houston Astros can still make the postseason?

There was a heightened sense of anticipation around Houston for the start of the 2016 baseball season. The Astros had defied all expectations in 2015 to finish with an 86-76 record in the regular season, before defeating the New York Yankees in the American League wild card game, and then putting up a brave fight in a 3-2 loss in the Division Series to the eventual champions, the Kansas City Royals. With the core of a promising team still in place and the experience of a run to the play-offs in the previous season, Astros fans could be forgiven for their optimism and expectations of another tilt at postseason baseball.

One month into the season, however, and things look a little different for the Astros from the positive outlook on Opening Day. They sit at the bottom of the AL West with a 7-17 record (tied for worst in the American League with the Minnesota Twins), and seven games back from the AL West frontrunners, the Texas Rangers. Only time will tell if the Astros can mount a play-off challenge from this distant position – but given their poor start, does history give us any indication as to the likelihood of a second consecutive season of postseason baseball?

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Beijing or bust; is there a new ‘Crucible curse’ affecting winners of the China Open?

Much is made in snooker about the ‘curse of the Crucible’ – the fact that no first-time winner of snooker’s World Championship has retained his title, dating back to the first tournament held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in 1977. That particular curse continued this year, with last year’s winner Stuart Bingham knocked out in the first round by Ali Carter.

But what if there was a second, different curse affecting players at the Crucible? Peter Ebdon alluded to this on commentary of this year’s championship, during Judd Trump’s second round match against Ding Junhui. Just two weeks prior to the start of the World Championship, Trump had beaten Ricky Walden 10-4 to seal his second China Open title; but now, Trump was about to be knocked out at the last 16 stage of snooker’s most prestigious event. Ebdon speculated – is there a curse affecting winners of the China Open?

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Almost unbeatable; how dominant have MotoGP’s ‘group of five’ been since 2007?

Every sport can experience an era of dominance from an individual, or a select set of individuals, making it very difficult for the casual fan (let alone the rest of the field) to believe in an upset. In Formula One, Michael Schumacher’s five consecutive world championships with Ferrari at the turn of the millennium prompted a change in the regulations to shake things up. At the same time, Tiger Woods was winning major after major in golf. Roger Federer claimed his first Wimbledon title in 2003, and since then, 41 of the 50 Grand Slam tournaments have been won by Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

In MotoGP, the dominance can be attributed to a ‘group of five’ – Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. These five riders have won fourteen of the last fifteen premier class world championships (Nicky Hayden’s sole triumph in 2006 is the only anomaly).

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Assessing the memories of broadcasters; how did Dallas Keuchel’s first inning against Milwaukee compare with all the first innings from his Cy Young year?

It’s an understatement to say Dallas Keuchel had a memorable 2015. Keuchel was a twenty-game winner in the Major Leagues, started the All-Star Game, made his inaugural appearance in the play-offs with the Houston Astros, and to top it all off, was the recipient of the American League Cy Young award.

We’re still in the very early stages of the 2016 season, and it would be foolish to draw any serious conclusions at a time when Houston have played less than six percent of their games. As an Astros fan, I should be clear that this article is not intended to be used as a prediction as to how the season may pan out. The only purpose this particular piece serves is to answer a topic raised by esteemed broadcasters Bill Brown and Alan Ashby during the broadcast on Sunday’s game at Milwaukee – had Dallas Keuchel struggled as much in any first inning of 2015, as he did at Miller Park on Sunday?

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A lesson in hope; which football team haven’t finished in the Top 6 in over 45 years?

It’s often said “it’s the hope that kills you” – a phrase usually applied to football. Fans spend weekend after weekend following their team up and down the land, knowing more often than not, failure will triumph over success. Indeed, no club in English football history has ever had more ups than downs, even the successful ones. Despite the three post-war top division titles won by Manchester City, they suffered seven relegations in that period. Chelsea had to wait fifty years between their second and third league championships. Manchester United fans have had to watch Louis van Gaal wage a one-man war to suck all the entertainment out of the game, culminating in a ten match run at Old Trafford earlier this season in which his team only scored two goals before half-time. The ups and downs are all relative, of course – United’s biggest ‘down’ would be higher than the biggest ‘up’ for the majority of teams – but for fans, these are ups and downs nonetheless. 

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