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Better or worse, O's worthy of awards

As a group, the Orioles didn't post the results they were hoping to produce before the All-Star break, but they did have a few notable individual performances.

For only the second time in team history, they have three players with at least 60 RBIs at the break (Jeff Conine 63, Jay Gibbons 63 and Tony Batista 61).

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One newcomer, Deivi Cruz (.257, 11 home runs), lived up to his modest billing, and another Omar Daal (4-10, 5.86 ERA) didn't. But the envelopes are in, and here are The Sun's first-half awards.

Most Valuable Player: Melvin Mora. The Orioles haven't had an American League batting champ since Frank Robinson hit .316 in 1966. Mora, who didn't crack the Opening Day lineup, had the AL lead for six weeks before falling behind Ichiro Suzuki on Sunday. How about defense? Playing 75 games at five different positions, Mora has one error.

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Most Improved: Sidney Ponson. His ERA (3.64) is down less than half a run from last season (4.09), but his record is 12-5 compared to 7-9 a year ago. The difference? Sure, his run support is better (6.4 runs per nine innings compared to 4.1 last year), but Sir Sidney is maturing, too, and instead of trying to blow the ball by hitters, he's learning to pitch.

Biggest surprise: Luis Matos. Last year's biggest offensive surprise, Gary Matthews, had the center-field job to start the season. When he faltered, the Orioles let him go to San Diego through waivers, and gave Matos a chance. They wondered if Matos could hit enough to stay, and after 183 at-bats, he's batting .344.

Biggest disappointment: Buddy Groom. The difference between last year and this year for Groom is astonishing. His ERA was 1.60, and now it's 6.41. He was the bullpen's anchor last year, and now the entire bullpen seems lost without him at his best. Roles have had to be changed. B.J. Ryan has emerged as the most dependable left-handed reliever.

Player to watch: Brian Roberts. His on-base percentage (.352) isn't quite as high as Jerry Hairston's was (.387) before he broke a bone in his right foot. But Roberts has been so good, the Orioles are seriously thinking about moving him to shortstop next year so they can keep both of them in their starting lineup.


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