If you look at AL East standings, you may have to take a double take because leading the division are the Baltimore Orioles. For the past couple of decades, it's mainly been the Yankees and Red Sox atop the Eastern Division, but so far this season, the Orioles are not only leading the division, but showing true grit pulling off major sweeps of both of their main AL East Rivals.

But, there are still a lot of questions about the future of the O's...Can they keep scraping and pulling out tight victories? Can their pitching staff hold it together? And maybe most importantly, are they a real contender?

Well, as far as them being a real contender for the AL East Crown, I don't see how you can't count them in the race for the long run. Not only is Buck Showalter one of the best managers in baseball, but a lot of the Baby Birds are starting to come into their own. They have improved in scoring runs (14th last year, 7th this year) and in slugging percentage (9th last year, 5th this year).

Outfielder Adam Jones has built on the strong 2011 and has played great this year as he leads the team in homers with 14,  batting average with a robust .307, RBIs in 31 and hits with 61. Matt Wieters has brought the bat again this year from behind the plate as he is hitting the ball really well plus doing a great job of getting on base. Shortstop J.J. Hardy is still bringing plenty of pop at what is normally an offensively deficient position.

Not to mention, despite a recent slide, a solid bullpen. The staff has improved a lot in ERA (4.89 in 2011, 3.46 in 2012) and WHIP (1.45 in 2011, 1.25 in 2012) and a big reason for their improved pitching has been two acquisitions in the offseason in Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen.

They have had a few injuries lately that have hampered their rise from the basement, but the O's whether they win the division or not, are going to be a force to reckon with for the foreseeable future. They are young, strong, and refuse to give up. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the Yankees and Red Sox are starting to decline.

I'm not COMPLETELY sold on this team yet, and I still see the Red Sox or Yankees rallying to win the division. But I can certainly see them finishing above .500 and sneaking into the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. They are better than a lot of the teams in the American League and are way better than most people are giving them credit for to this point in the season.

More From 1130 The Tiger