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Orioles' improbable four-game winning streak fueled by expectations it's flying against

No matter how Wednesday's game goes in Toronto to wrap up the Orioles' six-game road trip, the first five games of the season have taken the low expectations for this young, rebuilding team and smashed them.

What no one involved will say is that this is something that can extend past the season's first week and over the ensuing 26 — only that this is the absolute ideal start to the season, and they're enjoying every second of it.

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"I want a good feel for our guys, and they're playing well," manager Brandon Hyde said. "I want them to know that, and I want them to know this is how they can play. So the energy level, the feel, the camaraderie — all that stuff's fantastic.

"And they're also playing for each other, too. You can see it in their at-bats, you can see it defensively, and that's where it really stands out. This is a long journey, but this first handful of games, this was my — when I was looking ahead to the season, this is how I was hoping we would play."

If it seems overly ambitious for a team that was universally predicted to lose at least 100 games after setting a franchise record with 115 losses in 2018, that's because Hyde isn't looking at it in that context. The last time the Orioles won four games in a row on a road trip was Sept. 7-10, 2014, against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. They won four straight road games in July 2016 — July 5-6 at the Los Angeles Dodgers and July 15-16 at the Rays — but had a three-game home series in between those victories.

When advised this matched the longest winning streak of all of 2018 for the Orioles, Hyde said, "I don't care about last year at all, to be honest with you."

Yet even as the Orioles, under Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, have charted a path toward building a sustainable competitor through player development for years to come, the specter of 2018 hangs over the major league season.

In lieu of significant major league additions — and we'll see if Nate Karns, Jesús Sucre, Rio Ruiz, Dwight Smith Jr., Pedro Severino or Rule 5 draft picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson prove to be that — experts’ expectations were that those changes to the organization wouldn't produce much winning baseball early.

That it has done so four times in five games is owed some to that change.

"It's been fun," said Andrew Cashner, Tuesday's winning pitcher after six scoreless innings. "There's a lot of new people in here. There is definitely a different culture in here. I think there's no pressure, you know, as far as all these young guys. Nobody is counting on us to win, so let's just go out there and play. I think a big thing is just pick up your teammates — defense, offense. We're just having fun."

"In this situation, we feel happy," said infielder Jonathan Villar, who had a double and a triple in the win. "We've got a young team right here, and nobody thinks that we'd win a lot. But we come to the field not scared to play, and we run the bases [well], play good defense. We're happy for this situation."

For the winning streak to continue, the Orioles will need several things to go right. Hyde has been impressed by their timely hitting and their defense, and sees the latter as a way to be competitive in every game.

"Our goal is to catch the ball behind the pitcher and not give up extra outs, limit damage and just be fundamentally sound defensively," Hyde said. "As you see when you do that, you're in games, and you give yourself a chance to win. That's what we've done so far."

It will also come down to Wednesday's bullpen game with Karns as the “opener” and Jimmy Yacabonis behind him. The only pitcher who might not be available in relief is Paul Fry, who pitched two innings Tuesday to bridge the gap between Cashner and closer-of-the-day Miguel Castro.

Wednesday will stretch an already taxed pitching staff even more, so there will certainly be an impetus to win just so that's for something. After Alex Cobb starts Thursday's home opener, the Orioles have another day off, their last for three weeks.

But a win would have them 5-1 entering the home opener against the New York Yankees and would add an entirely different dynamic to an already joyous day in Baltimore — though there wouldn't have been hostility if their record after this trip was 2-4 or 1-5.

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The past four games, however they look four months from now, have taken those low expectations and brought the Orioles to a start only perhaps Hyde could have envisioned.

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