In almost two hours the Orioles will take the field in Tampa Bay to begin the 2011 season.
I am happy baseball is back. Win or lose, it's a lot more fun talking about actual games than it is talking about player signings or who is looking good or bad in spring training. So at least there's that.
And while I'm not ready to go all-in with this team, I am excited, and I do expect them to be a lot better than the 66-96 record they compiled a year ago. They've brought in better players and Buck Showalter has instilled his system during spring training. You have to think that will make a big difference.
And most everyone is healthy, which is the most important thing coming out of spring training. Hopefully it will remain that way as the season evolves. While the O's are a little better prepared to deal with injuries in 2011 with Nolan Reimold and Zach Britton waiting in Norfolk after excellent grapefruit campaigns, the Orioles have been decimated by injures in the past. They can't let it happen again.
Yet I still believe this team has a lot of question marks. Age, health, and the ability to bounce back from down years linger over all of the new faces. And we've yet to see any one of the younger players take that big step forward to become the centerpiece of the franchise.
So if I had to make a prediction, I'd go with 82-80 -- just enough to finally end that 13-year losing streak -- but still being somewhat disappointing since it means no serious run at the playoffs.
But I believe the team's ceiling is higher than that -- closer to 90 wins.
Will I regret such an "optimistic" prediction? Probably. But whereas in years past the team's ceiling wasn't much better than a .500 record, I don't feel that way about this year's team. More is being asked for from this team. It's no longer a developmental year -- no more shooting for .500. Buck is demanding wins. And this is a perfect time to do so at this point in the careers of these players. So I do feel like the team is demanding more from themselves --more importance on each at-bat, each out, in each game -- which could translate into things falling into place, ie, more wins. Hopefully we won't see the Orioles fall into a slumber for weeks at a time where they seem to be going through the motions like they did for most of the 2010 season.
If we know anything about the 2011 season, it's that Buck will not stand for that.
So it's time to put up or shut up.
And with that, I'll end it here.