Next question: How much better are the Orioles?

So now that we can say the season (spring training at least) starts next month, some excitement is clearly building for the 2011 version of Orioles baseball.

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Many fans seem quite pleased with the offseason additions and some seem to even feel the club could contend if a lot breaks right.

I would still guess that is a two-year process where you would hope to make a run at .500 and 80-some wins one season while hoping to get to 90-plus and contention the next.

So can 2011 be the year where the Orioles finally show major progress in the won-loss record and put the losing season run to bed forever at 13 in a row?

An optimist would probably say yes, while a pessimist might point out many were saying that before last season also, including many members of the national media.

To me, the O's seem to be a high 70's win type team right now, but maybe, they have improved enough that it would not take everything to break right just to get to 81.

Here are some things to consider about the 2011 season.

The injury factor: Several of the 2011 Orioles dealt with injuries in 2010. That list includes Derrek Lee, Brian Roberts, J.J. Hardy, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara to name some of them.

Counting on all of them to be completely healthy next season is probably a stretch and others who were not hurt could be. Injuries derailed the Red Sox last season and they have robbed many a team of a good season through the years.

On the other hand, pretty much all the players listed above ended 2010 in decent health, so it's also not a huge stretch to count on most of them.

The youth factor: Some young players take steps forward while some can take steps in the wrong direction. Trying to figure out which will do what is a real guessing game.

Nolan Reimold could return to his 2009 form, Brian Matusz could look as good as he did late last summer and Matt Wieters could hit .288 like he did in 2009 and not .249 like last year.

Jake Arrieta could improve on his rookie season and pitch to an ERA of 4.10 or struggle with his command and pitch to a 5.25.

But most of these young players mentioned have had some big league success and you have to think they can do it again. But, per usual, some will not live up to hopes and expectations, you can count on that and some will surprise.

The Buck factor: This is an area where most fans share confidence and have fewer questions. He now knows the team and the players know him. The days of a lack of focus, attention to detail or hustle should be over.

Under Buck, the team's situational and clutch hitting improved, so did the pitching and the Orioles played crisp baseball and just looked like more of a team.

He seems to have convinced many of the players that they are good enough to hold their own, even in this division. He kept saying last year that he told the players if they could be in the other club's pre-game meetings, they'd hear how good that club thinks they are.

The coaching staff looks strong. If there is one area where the O's should feel they can stack up with most, the manager and coaching staff could be that place.

The AL East: Sorry to throw a wet blanket on the O's possible improvement, but Toronto won 10 more games last year, up to 85 and stayed in fourth place.

The East remains easily baseball's best division and with the unbalanced schedule, the Orioles will play almost half their games vs. teams that won 85 or more games, just within the East.

As Buck has indicated though, they just can't use the division as an excuse anymore to fall short, but they sure have an uphill climb as any real fan knows.

But, they look improved and there are reasons for optimism. And, the season starts next month.

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