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Brandon Hyde says it’s too early to think playoffs. Are the Orioles playing well enough to change that?

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has been quick to point out that, for whatever reason, it still feels like it’s the middle of August despite the fact that this shortened baseball season didn’t start until the end of July.

In a traditional season, though, any team in a playoff spot at that time of the season would be willing to at least acknowledge that they’re in the thick of a postseason pursuit.

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Not Hyde and the Orioles. Asked if that thinking applied this year, Hyde only said Thursday that he’s “playing this like it’s August 13 and we’re two games out.”

“I think that we’re still so early in the season and we have a really tough schedule the rest of the way, and I just want to really, honestly, focus on trying to win today and win as many series as we can,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m pleased with our play so far this year. I’m proud of our guys. I think we’re playing hard. I think we’re playing hungry. I think our guys are improving.

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“But we’re in a tough division, and this is a tough league, and we have a tough schedule. We’re not going to back down from anybody. We’re going to continue to play hard and we’re going to see where we are at the end of this thing. But I’m not looking too far ahead.”

Hyde’s answer came before another comprehensive, 11-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies that gave the Orioles another series sweep. One game won’t likely sway his opinion, but that answer came when he was asked about Baseball Reference’s playoff odds forecast, which gave the Orioles a 52.1% chance of making the playoffs entering Thursday’s game.

At FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, which take into account the Orioles’ poor projections entering the season, those numbers were a little less aggressive at 15.9% and 21.3%, respectively. Still, only the Seattle Mariners had worse playoff odds than the Orioles out of all the American League teams at FanGraphs, and 11 AL teams entered Thursday with better odds at Baseball Prospectus.

Perhaps that’s what is tempering expectations internally. On Opening Day, the Orioles were projected to go 21-39 at FanGraphs, and weren’t expected to be much better anywhere else. When the league changed the playoff format to include eight teams from each league just ahead of the season, Hyde said that the Orioles were “a long ways away from that.”

That was much more realism than pessimism. It was based on the fact that the Orioles are playing in the difficult AL East and their 20 interleague games come against the National League East, which feature the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals and a pair of playoff hopefuls in the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets.

Naturally, the Miami Marlins — expected to compete for the first overall pick in the 2021 draft along with the Orioles — swept them in a four-game series earlier this month, and the Orioles are a combined 5-0 against that division otherwise. Once this weekend’s four games are completed, the difficult part of the interleague schedule will be finished.

The Orioles’ own division has proven to be different than anyone expected. The Boston Red Sox simply can’t pitch, and have the AL’s worst record to show for it. The transient Toronto Blue Jays haven’t clicked yet. The Yankees and Rays are both playing up to expectations, though the Rays’ sweep in Baltimore was a mark against that.

The best teams in each division were expected to bank wins against the Orioles. That hasn’t happened yet.

Perhaps Hyde doesn’t want to create the perception of a playoff team, only to have it dismantled by trades.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said when he traded reliever Richard Bleier that even competitive teams need to be transactional, and the team’s continued success might not change that.

There’s a difference between being a surprise playoff team and a contender, too. Being the former might only slightly change the calculus of trying to offload more-experienced or expensive players in trades close to the Aug. 31 deadline.

Maybe nobody wants to jinx what’s going on here, though it seems as if there’s a lot of legitimate improvement at play as opposed to just luck. There are several hitters fueling their 10-7 start who have made real strides and are hitting the ball with increased power.

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The starting rotation ERA of 4.62 is a full run better than last year, and the rotation’s WHIP of 1.17 is among the best in baseball. The bullpen has had more good days than bad, though some of the unsteadiness that torpedoed the 2019 season is popping up more and more.

“We’re taking good at-bats together,” said José Iglesias, who joined the team this spring and immediately became the veteran leader they’ve lacked. “We’re playing a good, fundamental baseball. We play defense. We turn double plays. Our pitching is doing a great job for us, and everything is just going our way. We’ve just got to take it one day at a time, and I think the team is doing great with that.”

When the Orioles outperformed their projections in the early-to-mid 2010s, it was based on timely hitting, serviceable starting pitching and lockdown relief pitching. Only the timely hitting seems poised to continue in a meaningful way, but perhaps that’s enough for the .500 ball required to keep them in the playoff chase through the end of September.

Good baseball in August, whether it’s the first full month of a season or fifth, doesn’t always mean it continues. Sunday’s tarp disaster in Washington and the suspension that ensued means the Orioles could either have their five-game winning streak erased entirely or extended to six games Friday.

Last time they won that many games in a row was at the end of August 2017, when Tim Beckham and Manny Machado sparked their best month of the season and made a team that was an afterthought for most of the way into a wild-card hopeful. Thinking about this team as a playoff contender could seem just as questionable in retrospect.

Including the loss that snapped that winning streak Aug. 31, the Orioles went 7-22 the rest of the way. The next two seasons, they lost 223 games combined. All of those losses, many of which came as several of these same Orioles were being given the chance to find their feet in the majors, make it hard to think of this team in any other light.

They’ll almost be a third of the way through the season Friday. It just might take convincing themselves they can do this to convince anyone else.

NATIONALS@ORIOLES

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Saturday, 7:35 p.m.

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TV: MASN Radio: 105.7 FM

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