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Vensel: We'll learn about these O's real fast

Have the ever-rebuilding Orioles laid a strong enough foundation to compete for a playoff spot in 2010 -- at least for most of the summer?

Well, it depends who you ask.

Orioles club president Andy MacPhail feels the team's latest reconstruction is still a year away from completion. The city's most cynical fans, bracing for another lost summer, aren't nearly as confident in the patient MacPhail's projection.

Wait for 2011? Screw that, say the players who throw on the Orioles uniform, trot out onto the field and actually play the games. They believe they have a realistic chance to make some noise this season.

Is that just Opening Day optimism talking, or are the Orioles really capable of hanging around in the playoff picture and keeping us interested until September?

We won't have to wait long to find out the answer.

We will learn during a brutal early-season schedule whether these Orioles are tough enough to end a stretch of 12 straight losing summers -- or if we will have to wait until next year, again.

Allow me to point out how brrruuutal this schedule really is. Twenty-eight of Baltimore's first 35 games are against teams that had winning records last season. The Orioles will be rocking road jerseys for 20 of those 35 games, including a West Coast trip that starts next week. They don't get a break until April 22, playing 16 straight days.

If this isn't a sign that a higher power -- be it God or Bud Selig -- does, indeed, hate the Orioles, I don't know what is. That's all rough, tough stuff, but the most noteworthy obstacle in this gantlet -- a stretch that will determine if this will be another cruel, cruel summer in Birdland -- is that the Orioles play 21 games against AL East opponents, starting with the Rays in Tuesday's season opener.

If they stumble out of the box and fall far behind the mighty Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the division, Ed Reed and Joe Flacco will be dominating the water-cooler talk a month from now, not Nick Markakis and Jeremy Guthrie.

But if the players are right when they say that this team is different -- "We're fed up with losing," Adam Jones told The Baltimore Sun -- and if the Orioles hang tough early, they could carry that momentum into the middle of summer. And for the first time since 2005, they would be relevant when the Ravens open training camp in late July. I know I'm probably getting carried away here. The team's performance in spring training hasn't instilled much confidence. There were encouraging signs, such as Jones hitting five homers and Brian Matusz pitching like a stud.

But there are more questions than answers.

Will Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie keep the pressure off the young pitchers? Can the Orioles rely on Mike Gonzalez? What will they get from Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins? Is there a true cleanup hitter on the roster? Right now, the Orioles are 0-0. And there is hope, even if we're all too familiar with how quickly it can fizzle out.

Thirty-five games from now, will that hope still be alive?

Matt Vensel is a content creator for b. Follow him on Twitter, @mattvensel.

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