With the 2011 baseball season just a week away, there are still some questions that answering. Everyone has their predictions and opinions of which teams and players are going to succeed and which ones will fall short of expectations. Obviously, nobody will know the answers for sure until the games are played, but it’s still fun to peak everyone’s curiosity. Here are a few questions I think will be interesting to watch unfold during the 2011 baseball season.

Who will be this season’s surprise team?

Orioles’ fans are hoping the answer to this question will reside in Charm City, but there are a few other teams that could surprise people this season. The O’s have been a popular pick by some experts to at least be competitive and possibly, with a lot of luck, make a run at the postseason. Of course, their lineup will have to produce on more than just paper and their young starting rotation will have to perform well above expectations, but it can be done. Some other teams that could turn a few heads are the Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins. The Diamondbacks have an improved rotation, a new closer (J.J. Putz) and a revamped lineup full of young talent that could take the always wide-open NL West. The A’s have a strong, solid rotation and improved bullpen as well and could very well make a run at the postseason. The Marlins haven’t finished in fourth place in the NL East since they finished last in 2007. They may have a little bigger hill to climb being in the same division as the Phillies, Braves and Mets, but making the playoffs isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

How many 20-game winners will the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff have?

The Phillies have four starting pitchers that have a chance at winning at least 20 games this season. The odds of all four winning 20 games are slim to none considering it has only happened twice in MLB history (1920 Chicago White Sox and 1971 Baltimore Orioles), but it’s still feasible with the staff the Phillies put together in the off-season. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are all very formidable pitchers, and of the four, three (Halladay, Lee and Oswalt) have already had at least one 20-win season in their careers.

Judging from history, Halladay and Oswalt are the two most likely to get to 20 wins because they have been the most consistent of the bunch. Even though Lee has some of the best stuff in the league, it may be tough for him to reach that mark again because he seems to play to the level of his opponent a bit. Consider this. Last season Lee went 2-0 with a 2.78 ERA against the Yankees and Red Sox and 1-2 with a 6.41 ERA against the O’s and Royals. A little baffling, I know. But the fact that he is pitching in the National League will definitely boost his odds to get to the 20-game win mark. Hamels is the wild card out of the bunch because of his inconsistency, which has a little to do with the injuries he has had to deal with over the past few seasons. But when he’s at his best, he’s very capable of winning 20 games.

Can the San Francisco Giants repeat as World Series champions?

Repeat world champions have been hard to come by over the past decade, and I don’t think that pattern is going to be broken this season. The Giants made a magical run last season and even though they still have most of the pieces from a championship team intact, it’s going to be tough to win it all again this season. They won with excellent pitching, from the starting rotation all the way to the closer, great fielding and timely hitting. They’re definitely going to be competitive again because of the aspects I just mentioned, but winning another championship isn’t going to be easy considering they are going to have to get past the Phillies and their four-headed monster of a pitching staff as well as their veteran lineup. But nobody thought the Giants would be able to do it last season either, so you never know.

Will anyone be able to stop the loaded Boston Red Sox roster?

The Red Sox will be a fun team to watch this season. That is, of course, if you are a Red Sox fan. But seriously, take a look at their projected lineup for 2011 – Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Marco Scutaro and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. First of all, the speed of this lineup is absolutely ridiculous and the power is unbelievable. Needless to say, teams aren’t going to know who to pitch around because the entire lineup is stacked. Their starting rotation will consist of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Health is a bit of a concern here, judging from Beckett and Dice-K’s history, but they should have enough offensive firepower to help them along. The talent doesn’t drop off when you get to their bullpen either, which is headlined by closer Jonathan Papelbon and features Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, Dan Wheeler and Hideki Okajima. It’s just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Submitted by Steve Giles