National buzz surrounding O's after first half of the season

Although teams have technically played more than half of their games, the All-Star festivities serve as a clean break in the season, offering a time for players, managers, front offices, spectators and national writers to evaluate teams' seasons so far.

And for the O's, all seems well when looking at their record. The Orioles, who in the offseason were projected to sit toward the bottom of the tough American League East, are in first place and have a four-game lead over the second-place Blue Jays.

While the Orioles suffered injuries in the first half, seeing Matt Wieters' season come to an end, they also had many unexpected highs. Can anyone say Steve Pearce?

With 94 games and 52 victories in the books for the Birds so far this season, here's what national attention the O's are garnering:

* Simply stated, Nelson Cruz was an offseason steal. Although Mike Trout is clearly the most popular choice for AL MVP, Cruz is close behind him, says John Heyman of CBS Sports.

* Joel Beall of FOX Sports is calling Buck Showalter the American League Manager of the First Half for managing a team that has featured an oft-struggling rotation, injuries and bats going cold.

* Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has labeled starter Ubaldo Jimenez's first half of the season as the most disappointing among all AL pitchers.

* After his historic 2013 season, Chris Davis no longer looks like the feared slugger in the box. He's flirting with the Mendoza line and is being called one of the most unpleasant surprises in the league.

* Despite unexpectedly slow starts for Manny Machado, Davis and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles are still in first place, and for that, they deserve an A grade, says Matt Synder of CBSsports.com.

For more O's news as the second half gets started, read more from Roch Kubatko and Steve Melewski on MASNsports.com.

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