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?

Jim Crane thought the heat over sign-stealing would blow over by spring training

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The Astros’ sign-stealing story broke in November, a steady drumbeat of coverage of it lasted through December and into January, when Rob Manfred’s report came out about it. The report was damning and, in its wake, Houston’s manager and general manger were both suspended and then fired.

After that a steady stream of media reports came out which not only made the whole affair seem even worse than Manfred’s report suggested, but which also suggested that, on some level, Major League Baseball had bungled it all and it was even worse than it had first seemed.

Rather than Manfred and the Astros putting this all behind them, the story grew. As it grew, both the Red Sox and Mets fired their managers and, in a few isolated media appearances, Astros’ players seemed ill-prepared for questions on it all. Once spring training began the Astros made even worse public appearances and, for the past week and change, each day has given us a new player or three angrily speaking out about how mad they are at the Astros and how poorly they’ve handled all of this.

Why have they handled it so poorly? As always, look to poor leadership:

Guess not.

In other news, Crane was — and I am not making this up — recently named the Houston Sports Executive of the Year. An award he has totally, totally earned, right?