The 2012 MLB season is now entering its fifth month, and the month of July featured many of baseball’s elite stars sustaining their excellent level of play, while others stumbled.
Over the course of a six-month regular season, ebbs and flows are typical for just about every single player, and for some, nagging little injuries can often curtail production as well.
We will take a look at the top 50 MLB fantasy stars and attach a grade to their performance in the month of July.
As a point of reference, the top 50 list has been compiled in a very simple manner—using the current top fantasy producers according to Yahoo! Sports.
Note: Many of the player statistics do not reflect games played past Tuesday night.
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse has been as steady as they come this season, posting a 10-2 record and 2.71 ERA on the season.
In the month of July, Lohse has stayed hot, with a 3-0 record and 2.36 ERA in five starts. He’ll end the month with one more outing against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night.
It’s a little unfair to attach a grade to the July performance of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, considering the fact he only played nine games before landing on the disabled list with torn cartilage in his left knee that required surgery.
The Reds haven’t missed a beat since Votto’s departure, either, winning 11 of 13 games with their star first baseman sidelined.
Votto is expected back sometime around mid-August, and he’ll look to continue a terrific season in which he's hitting .342 with a league-leading .465 OBP and 1.069 OPS.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto’s partner on the right side of the infield, has quietly put together another solid all-around season, hitting .299 with 12 HR and 61 RBI.
In July, Phillips remained hot at the plate, posting a .330 average, two HR, 15 RBI and .845 OPS, helping the Reds continue their hot play without the services of Votto.
There were many experts and fans who thought that Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis would have been a worthy choice as an American League All-Star. Kipnis was second among all AL second baseman behind only Robinson Cano in both home runs and runs batted in before the All-Star break.
Kipnis’ production in July did take a dip. He hit just .257 with no homers and 10 RBI entering the final game of the month on Tuesday.
Now armed with a nice six-year, $144 million contract extension, Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels has sputtered a bit since getting off to an 8-1 start in the first two months of the season.
Hamels went 1-1 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.373 WHIP in July, representing his worst monthly totals of the season.
Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond has quickly established himself as one of the top-hitting middle infielders in the National League.
Desmond led all NL shortstops with 17 HR and 51 RBI entering the All-Star break. However, Desmond was placed on the disabled list with a strained oblique on July 23, cutting short a hot month in which he was hitting .356 with four HR and 10 RBI.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong ended his month of July on a high note statistically on Sunday, but still took the loss despite a solid six-inning effort against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Vogelsong sports a National League-leading 2.22 ERA with an 8-5 record on the year, including a solid 2.18 ERA in July in five starts. His 1-2 record for the month was certainly more a reflection of receiving poor run support.
Chicago White Sox starter Jake Peavy was a hard-luck pitcher in the month of June, posting an 0-4 record despite a stellar 2.76 ERA.
In July, Peavy was the recipient of better run support as he posted a 2-2 record and 3.95 ERA. An excellent sign is the fact that Peavy posted his second-best K/9 rate of any month at 8.2—an indication that his surgically-repaired right shoulder is holding up well thus far.
In his ongoing bounce-back season, Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn leads the majors in both home runs (31) and walks (77). On the flip side, Dunn also leads the majors in strikeouts (150) and is hitting just .212.
In July, Dunn hit seven homers heading into Tuesday’s game with the Minnesota Twins, but he hit just .209 with his lowest strikeout mark of any month this season (25).
Starting out the season behind Javy Guerra on the depth chart, Kenley Jansen replaced Guerra as the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers in early May, and it’s hard to argue the merits of that decision since that time.
The month of July proved to be stellar for Jansen—a 0.68 ERA, eight saves and just one earned run and seven hits allowed in 13.1 innings with 18 strikeouts.
For the season, Jansen has compiled a 1.89 ERA in 47 appearances, with a 13.6 K/9 rate and 0.881 WHIP.
On a team loaded with power bats, second baseman Ian Kinsler continues to produce at the top of the order for the Texas Rangers.
However, he’s not quite producing at last season's rate when he posted a 30/30 season (32 homers, 30 steals). Currently, he has a .272 average, 11 HR, 47 RBI and 19 thefts.
The month of July reflected the downtick, with Kinsler hitting just .256 with two homers and seven RBI.
In his first season in Motown, first baseman Prince Fielder has experienced a bit of a power dip, but the production has been solid nonetheless.
In July, Fielder hit .322 with four HR and 20 RBI. On the season, Fielder is now hitting .303 with 16 HR and 72 RBI, and Tigers fans are finally seeing what Fielder and Miguel Cabrera can do together in the middle of the order.
Now in his 15th MLB season, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre doesn’t show signs of slowing down much, hitting .314 on the season with 18 HR and 61 RBI.
Beltre did cool down a bit in the month of July, with a .270 average, four HR and nine RBI. It’s the first month all season in which Beltre’s average dipped below .300.
After a slow start, Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista was starting to get back to his old self, tied with Adam Dunn at the top of the American League standings with 27 home runs at the All-Star break.
In a torrid June, Bautista hit 14 HR with 30 RBI for the Jays, but he cooled considerably in July, hitting just one homer in 12 games before being sidelined with an injured left wrist on July 16 at Yankee Stadium.
Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Jason Kubel has done an outstanding job of living up to the two-year, $16 million contract awarded to him this offseason by the D-Backs.
Kubel leads Arizona in both home runs (22) and runs batted in (72), and he experienced a major power surge in July with 11 homers, a .289 average and 1.125 OPS.
With a 13-5 record and 3.27 ERA in 21 starts thus far in 2012, Gio Gonzalez has been everything that the Washington Nationals had hoped for when they acquired him from the Oakland A’s during the offseason.
In July, Gonzalez faltered a bit, posting a 3-2 record but with a 4.59 ERA, including struggling on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers, giving up four earned runs on five hits and five walks in six innings.
At the heart of the current hot streak by the Cincinnati Reds has been stellar starting pitching led by ace Johnny Cueto.
Cueto, 13-5 with a 2.39 ERA on the season, was just as tough throughout the month of July, posting a 4-1 record and 2.84 ERA in five starts.
Three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann has become an integral part of a stellar starting rotation.
Now 8-6 with a 2.28 ERA in 21 starts, Zimmermann posted a perfect month of July, winning four games with a stingy 0.97 ERA in six starts.
Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is following up his outstanding rookie year with a sophomore season that may even better by comparison.
Already with 30 saves and a 1.35 ERA, Kimbrel was outstanding in July—seven saves in 10 appearances, giving up just one run on three hits in 10 innings while striking out 17 batters.
The struggles of the Seattle Mariners during the 2012 season certainly can't be placed on the shoulders of ace Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez has more than done his part, posting a 9-5 record and 2.79 ERA in 22 starts, leading the majors with 153 strikeouts.
In July, Hernandez was downright stingy, allowing just 10 earned runs in six starts with a 3-0 record and 2.03 ERA. Lousy run support should have led to two more wins, but such is life for Hernandez in the Northwest.
At just 23 years of age, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner continues to show that he is fast becoming one of the elite southpaws in the National League.
Now with an 11-6 record and 3.09 ERA through 21 starts, Bumgarner was inconsistent in July, accumulating a 1-2 record and 3.94 ERA in five starts.
Bumgarner continues to show excellent command, as he posted an outstanding 5.43 SO/BB rate for the month.
In 2011, New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson established himself as an elite power hitter, slugging 41 HR and an AL-leading 119 RBI.
In 2012, Granderson is again close to the top of the standings with 28 HR and 58 RBI. The production took a bit of a dip in July, with five HR, 12 RBI and a .247 average in 24 games. His power numbers represented the lowest totals for any month thus far this season.
On paper, it would look like Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw isn't quite having the type of dominant season that he displayed last year, winning the NL Cy Young Award in runaway fashion with a 21-5 record, 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts.
This year, Kershaw is just 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 149.1 innings. However, a closer look shows that Kershaw has had seven quality starts in which he received either a loss or a no-decision.
Such was the case in July as well. Kershaw was 3-2 with a 3.51 ERA in six starts for the month, including a gem on July 18 against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing just one run on five hits in eight innings in another no-decision.
Few pitchers in baseball have been as nasty or as automatic as Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
Literally taken off the scrap heap after two miserable seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Rodney has been on fire in 2012, with 30 saves, a nasty 0.76 ERA and 0.776 WHIP.
In July, Rodney posted a perfect 0.00 ERA, allowing just nine hits in 13 innings, collecting eight more saves.
After getting off to a sluggish start to the season, New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano is once again back on track for another outstanding season.
Now hitting .309 with 22 HR and 56 RBI, Cano only hit three homers in the month of July but hit .314 with 12 RBI. His .813 OPS was over 300 points lower than his torrid number set in June.
Unfortunately for the Boston Red Sox, designated hitter David Ortiz will end the month on the disabled list, still hobbled by a right Achilles' heel strain.
Ortiz was leading the American League in both slugging (.609) and OPS (1.024) at the time of his injury, including a terrific start to the month of July with a .395 average and 1.126 OPS.
Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn is due to become a free agent at the end of the season, and with the career year he's having, he'll likely earn a lucrative contract with someone, if not the Braves.
Bourn is hitting .293 with eight HR, 43 RBI and 28 stolen bases and has become a spark at the top of the Atlanta lineup that had been missing for quite some time.
In July, Bourn slipped to a .252 average with just six stolen bases, but his 14 runs batted in represented his highest monthly total of the season.
Entering Tuesday night's game with the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg had thrown 117.1 innings, fast approaching the innings limit imposed on him by GM Mike Rizzo.
Strasburg, 11-4 with a 2.76 ERA, was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four starts in July before getting knocked around a bit on Tuesday night, giving up six earned runs in his first four innings of work to raise his July ERA to 4.16.
Last year, Los Angeles Angels slugger Mark Trumbo burst onto the scene, finishing runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year Award balloting with 29 HR and 87 RBI.
This year, despite not having a set position to play, Trumbo has flourished, now with 27 HR, 69 RBI, a .304 average and his first All-Star team selection to his credit.
In July, Trumbo didn't cool down much, hitting .278 with eight HR and 16 RBI.
It's pretty clear to anyone who has watched Josh Willingham play this year that he has found his new home to his liking.
In his first year with the Minnesota Twins, Willingham is well on his way to establishing career highs, with 27 HR and 79 RBI already to his credit.
In July, Willingham pounded out 11 HR with 27 RBI, a .292 average, .685 slugging percentage and 1.087 OPS.
The Twins may not be going anywhere in October, but Willingham has established himself as the clear offensive leader.
Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price is establishing himself in 2012 as a front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award.
Price is 14-4 with a 2.64 ERA in 21 starts, including an excellent month of July in which he was 3-0 with a 1.79 ERA, an 11.2 K/9 rate and 0.962 WHIP. All five of Price's July outings were quality starts, receiving a no-decision in two of them.
Right fielder Carlos Beltran has done just about everything asked of him when the St. Louis Cardinals signed him to a two-year, $26 million contract this offseason.
Beltran is hitting .282 with 23 HR and a National League-leading 73 RBI.
However, Beltran has struggled in July, hitting just .188 with three HR, 12 RBI and a .571 OPS.
Since taking over the closer's role full time in Cincinnati, Reds' flame-throwing southpaw Aroldis Chapman has been simply electric.
Now with 21 saves on the season and a 1.45 ERA, Chapman took his talents to a whole new level in July.
Chapman was unscored upon for the month, giving up just six hits in 13.1 innings with 12 saves and an incredible 20.3 K/9 rate and 15.5 K/BB rate.
Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale has been pretty special in his first year as a full-time starter, posting a 12-3 record with a 2.61 ERA in 18 starts.
However, Sale's latest struggles show that he doesn't have the stamina to be a starter for an entire season.
Sale posted a 3-1 record with a 3.77 ERA in July, but in his last two starts, it was clear his velocity was down, giving up 10 earned runs in 13.1 innings of work. Manager Robin Ventura shut Sale down until at least Aug. 7.
Who needs Albert Pujols when you have a pair of elite hitters in Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday?
That's what many St. Louis Cardinals are likely thinking this season. Much like Beltran, Holliday has done an excellent job in filling the offensive void left behind by Pujols' departure.
Hitting .319 with 18 HR and 66 RBI on the season, Holliday continued his incredible season in July, batting .363 with six homers, 18 RBI and 1.130 OPS.
In 2011, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn took their fair share of blame for disappointing seasons that helped the Chicago White Sox limp to a 79-83 finish.
What a difference a year can make.
Rios has rebounded, hitting .311 with 16 HR, 63 RBI, 15 stolen bases and an .872 OPS.
In July, Rios kept it up, hitting .333 with six homers, 22 RBI and 1.005 OPS.
Now in his fifth season with the Baltimore Orioles, center fielder Adam Jones has become the face of the franchise and their unquestioned offensive leader.
Jones is hitting .293 on the year with 24 HR and 57 RBI, as he earned his second All-Star selection in the process.
Jones has tailed off after a torrid first two months of the season, hitting just .264 in July with five homers and 16 RBI.
Left fielder Melky Cabrera has given the San Francisco Giants exactly what they needed when they traded for him this offseason—offensive support, and plenty of it.
Cabrera has been outstanding, hitting .348 on the season with 10 HR, 52 RBI and a league-leading 142 hits.
In July, Cabrera kept up his torrid pace, hitting .355 with three HR, 14 RBI and a .902 OPS.
The Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander in a rain-shortened game on Tuesday night, dropping Verlander's record to 11-7 with a 2.63 ERA.
Verlander was 3-2 with a 2.68 ERA in July, dropping his last two decisions in the month, giving up eight earned runs in 12 innings.
With the struggles of two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, fellow San Francisco Giants starter Matt Cain has established himself as the new ace in town.
Cain has posted a 10-3 record and 2.80 ERA in 20 starts, including the 22nd perfect game in major league history.
In July, Cain had his worst month, winning one game in four starts with a 3.86 ERA.
As terrific as the first two months of the season were for Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, the following two months told a different story altogether.
Hamilton still possesses a .283 average with 29 HR and 84 RBI, but his struggles began in June when he hit just .223 with four home runs.
Hamilton hit .177 in July, also with just four home runs and, at times, looked like he had no clue at the plate.
In 2011, New York Mets third baseman David Wright missed 60 games with a stress fracture in his back, and his numbers took quite a dip, hitting just .254 with 14 HR and 61 RBI.
This year, however, Wright is fully healthy, and his play is back to the level that fans have come to expect. Wright is hitting .333 on the season with 16 HR and 71 RBI.
In July, Wright's hit just .255, but it was his most productive month, as he slugged seven homers with 21 RBI.
A 14-2 record and 2.83 ERA might be expected from someone with a high-90s fastball, but not from a journeyman with a knuckleball.
That's what New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey has delivered thus far, and a Cy Young Award is clearly in sight if Dickey can keep up his amazing pace.
Dickey stumbled a bit after winning nine straight decisions in May and June. In July, Dickey was 2-1 with a 5.13 ERA and was bailed out by his offense at times.
The play of Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion was so impressive in the first three months of the season that the Jays signed him to a three-year, $27 million extension.
In July, Encarnacion kept up his terrific play, hitting .308 with six homers and 17 RBI. His current .290 average, 28 HR and 72 RBI are already career-highs.
We mentioned in an earlier slide that Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price has established himself as a front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award. The same case could be made for Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver.
Weaver moved to 14-1 on Tuesday night with 6.1 innings of two-run ball, defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2.
The victory gave Weaver a perfect month of July, with six wins in six starts and a 2.23 ERA.
As bad as the season has been for the Colorado Rockies, the same can't be said about right fielder Carlos Gonzalez.
Car-Go is hitting .324 on the season with 20 HR and 71 RBI, and in July, he tailed off just slightly, hitting .295 with three homers and 13 RBI.
Other than Albert Pujols, has there been anyone more consistent in the majors since 2004 than Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers?
The 2012 season has been no exception, with Cabrera hitting .323 with 26 HR and a major league-leading 87 RBI.
In July, he put together his best month, hitting .344 with nine HR and 23 RBI.
Even without the protection of Prince Fielder in the lineup, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun can just plain hit.
Braun is hitting .309 with 28 HR and 70 RBI, and the month of July proved to be a decent month, as he batted .301 with six homers and 15 RBI.
He missed the entire first month of the season, but Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout made up for it quickly.
Trout leads the American League in batting average (.353), runs scored (80) and stolen bases (31).
In the month of July, Trout hit a sizzling .392 with 10 HR, 23 RBI and a staggering 1.259 OPS.
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is the top-rated fantasy player for a reason—he does everything exceptionally well.
McCutchen leads the majors in batting average (.373) and slugging percentage (.632) and is one of only five players with an OPS above 1.000 (1.064).
For the month of July, McCutchen hit an incredible .446, with seven HR, 15 RBI and a 1.249 OPS.
Both the top players on this list (McCutchen and Trout) would be runaway winners of the MVP Award in their respective leagues if the season ended today.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.