The Orioles are about to hit the mathematical midpoint in the 2011 season, and the question hangs in the air like a fat curveball.
Is this progress?
If you're measuring improvement strictly by the numbers, the answer is obvious. The Orioles are far better off today than they were a year ago at the same time. They won just 25 of their first 81 games of 2010 and were already 25 games out of first place in the American League East.
The actual midpoint this year comes Sunday, but you don't have to wait until then to figure out that this year's team is 22 fewer games under .500 and half as many games out of first place in the division.
Clearly, it depends on how you define progress, because the Orioles for all of that mathematical mumbo-jumbo still bear too many similarities to the beat-up and beat-down team that Buck Showalter pulled off the mat last August.
Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts has missed most of the first half because of injury, just as he did last year.
Several of the pitchers who were expected to form the nucleus of the club's youth movement are again battling injuries or ineffectiveness, and projected cornerstone of the young rotation just got demoted to Triple-A Norfolk.
This year's bargain sluggers, Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, have been only marginally productive.
The bullpen has been inconsistent and one of the free agent relievers signed by the club last winter (Jeremy Accardo) already has been designated for assignment.
There is no doubt that this year's team has more personality, more big-name players and more offensive potential, but it still is not really evident that the Orioles are any closer chronologically to emerging as a legitimate playoff contender.
The organization remains almost devoid of position depth despite more than a decade near the top of the draft order. There is promise in the group of young pitchers who are trying to break out at the major league level, but there also are nagging questions about the ability of the franchise to develop them.
It is not a pretty picture, but there is still a half-season left for the Orioles to get healthy and build a winning chemistry. If you're looking for a precedent, Showalter led a much lesser team on quite a late-season run in 2010, and this O's team isn't hopelessly out of contention, though it looks like it's just about to fall off that competitive cliff.
The first half has taken them on a bumpy ride that has left them banged up, bewildered and still at the bottom of the standings. Click here for my take on some of the leading characters in this soap opera of a season.
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090 AM) and WBAL.com.