The HardballTalk Season Preview

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It’s Opening Day Eve, everyone. And the quicker we get to bed tonight, the quicker Baseball Claus comes and brings us our precious games.

Until then, however, here are links to all 30 of HardballTalk’s Springtime Storylines entries, cataloging the Big Questions, the Not so Big Questions the continuing nagging issues and dramas of each and every team and, of course, a prediction as to each team’s chances. The predictions are guaranteed to be right or your money back.

By the time you’re done with these, you’ll be able to talk turkey about the 2011 season with anyone. Added bonus: when these previews and predictions start looking silly come Mother’s Day, you’ll need only go to this link as a quick-reference for our collective ignorance and folly.  We believe, however, that we did a pretty darn good job with these.

Enjoy!

AL EAST
Red Sox: Are they the best team in baseball?
Yankees: Do they have enough pitching?
Rays: Did they lose too many guys?
Blue Jays: Are they doomed by baseball’s toughest division?
Orioles: How soon can Buck Showalter turn them into contenders?

AL CENTRAL
White Sox: Can they slug their way to division crown?
Twins: Can they win a third AL Central title?
Tigers: Can they win their first division title since 1987?
Indians: Will they ever finish rebuilding?
Royals: Will they avoid a third straight 95-loss season?

AL WEST
Rangers: Can they survive the departure of Cliff Lee?
Athletics: Did they add enough offense?
Angels: Did anyone have a worse offseason than these guys?
Mariners: Has the offense improved enough to be merely awful?

NL EAST
Phillies: How far can the Big Four carry them?
Braves: Will they miss a beat without Bobby Cox?
Marlins: Is this the year they finally break the mold?
Mets: Will they look the same in September?
Nationals: Is it just another season in limbo?

NL CENTRAL
Reds: Can they do it again?
Brewers: Did they improve enough this offseason?
Cardinals: Can they survive the loss of their ace?
Cubs: Do they have what it takes to change history?
Astros: Are they headed for a long stretch of rough results?
Pirates: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

NL WEST
Giants: Can they repeat?
Rockies: Do they have enough offense?
Dodgers: Are we gonna talk ourself into liking their chances?
Padres: Is there life after Adrian Gonzalez?
Diamondbacks: Is character and passion enough?

Clay Buchholz apologized to the Phillies for getting injured

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MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports that starter Clay Buchholz is at Citizens Bank Park for Wednesday night’s game against the Marlins. The right-hander recently underwent surgery to repair a partial tear of his flexor pronator mass. The timetable for his recovery is three to five months, but most are expecting him to miss the rest of the season since the Phillies aren’t legitimate contenders.

According to Zolecki, Buchholz apologized to GM Matt Klentak “and others” — presumably other front office staff and/or his teammates — for getting injured. Buchholz hopes to return to pitch in September.

It’s saddening to me, and indicative of the general anti-labor culture in sports, that a player feels obligated to apologize for getting injured on the job. Injuries are nothing new for Buchholz, which might have factored into his decision to apologize. Red Sox fans got on his case quite a bit over the years for his propensity to land on the disabled list. But it wasn’t like Buchholz was taking unnecessary risks; he simply did his job, which entails doing a lot of unhealthy movement with his arm. Buchholz owes no one an apology.

Buchholz isn’t the only player to have apologized for getting injured. Outfielder Hideki Matsui apologized to the Yankees in 2006. Starter Masahiro Tanaka apologized in 2014. Twins reliever Glen Perkins apologized last year. Even Madison Bumgarner sort of apologized for suffering injuries riding a dirt bike on an off-day, saying “It’s definitely not the most responsible decision I’ve made.” Because god forbid an athlete has interests and hobbies outside of his vocation.

Players are brought up in a sports culture that allows exorbitantly wealthy owners to bilk the players — laborers — at every possible turn. They’re mostly underpaid and poorly taken care of in the minors. If and when they reach the major leagues, their salaries are intentionally depressed for six years and their service time is toyed with (just ask Kris Bryant). Buchholz endured that and then endured the criticism that comes with having been a hyped prospect who mostly failed to live up to expectations. He’s gone above and beyond what he needed to do to have a successful career as a professional baseball player, even if it wasn’t as much as fans or front office personnel would have liked.

Eric Thames leaves game with apparent injury

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Update (5:22 PM ET): Thames is dealing with left hamstring tightness. Manager Craig Counsell says it’s “not a big deal,” Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

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Brewers first baseman Eric Thames left Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Reds in the top of the eighth inning with an apparent injury. Thames took his position to start the inning, but was replaced by Jesus Aguilar. Thames had flied out weakly to center field to end the previous inning, so perhaps something happened while he ran that out.

The Brewers should provide an update shortly on the exact nature of Thames’ early exit. Needless to say, losing Thames to the disabled list would be a huge blow to the 11-11 Brewers, as he entered Wednesday leading all of baseball in runs (25), home runs (11), slugging percentage (.929), and OPS (1.411). Thames was 1-for-3 with a single, a pair of walks, and two runs scored before leaving.