Each time last summer the 108-loss Orioles claimed to be a competitive team that was in contention every game, it was met with amused disbelief. Such proclamations always seemed to come after a tight game in the middle innings ballooned into a lopsided loss, or when they were one swing away, but that swing never came.
This year, they don't have to pretend. Anyone can tell just by watching these Orioles that they're competitive, and a quarter of the way through this coronavirus-shortened 60-game season, that's a massive step in the right direction for manager Brandon Hyde's club.
Entering Sunday, the Orioles played just three games in which they didn't have a chance to win it in their last at-bats -- the Opening Day defeat at the Boston Red Sox and home series-opening losses against the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins.
The team has been streaky, with winless series against the Yankees and Marlins and winning weekends against the Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and defending champion Washington Nationals.
The consistency to play competitively every night is still to come, though Hyde has never doubted his team's ability to put the tough ones behind them.
"You're not going to play a perfect game every night," he said. "You're not going to be consistent with having a good start every night or having a good offense every night. You can try for that to happen. We just didn't play well for a couple days there against Miami. That happens to teams, and I hope that we rebound.
"I thought we pitched really well in the Miami series. Had a tough day the last game. But we played four close games there and were just on the wrong side of them. It just didn't happen for us that series. But (Saturday) night I thought we threw the ball well, and had some good at-bats late in the game and pulled one out."
Before Sunday's game was suspended after some tarp problems at Nationals Park, the Orioles were in the process of pulling another one out. That game will be restarted Friday, and considering the difference in who the Orioles played from one series to the next so far, there's no guarantee they'll be in as strong a position to win.
There are far fewer reasons to write off the possibility entirely, though.
Save for a few duds, the starting pitching has held up its end of the deal. Alex Cobb has looked like he did in 2014 with the Rays, two surgeries and seemingly a lifetime ago. Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc have given the team competitive starts more often than not, and served as a stopper when it's been required. Asher Wojciechowski has been solid as well, and the Orioles haven't gotten the benefit of John Means' new hard-throwing repertoire yet.