Before the All-Star break, the 2012 season looked like another 90+ loss, throwaway year for the Seattle Mariners. In the 44 games since the Mid-Summer Classic, the M's have compiled a record of 27-17 and have achieved winning streaks of seven and eight games.
With a month to go in the regular season, the Mariners are 63-68, and although it'll take a motion picture-worthy miracle for them to sneak into the postseason this year, they've climbed to a respectable nine games out of the Wild Card lead.
September will be a month in which Seattle will have an opportunity to build upon their recent success and continue to improve team chemistry, as well as grant young players time on the field in order to acclimate themselves to the big stage.
This club looks ready to be in the playoff hunt sooner than most expected, and here are four reasons they'll be in contention to win the AL West in 2013.
As long as the Mariners have King Felix on the roster, they've got a shot to do something special. He's simply that good.
He's single-handedly won four games for the M's by my count, those four being the occasions in which he's thrown a complete game with a 1-0 final score.
Felix as always been a stud, but his five complete-game shutouts this season, including the four 1-0 games, prove how much better he's gotten.
Several times in the past, Hernandez would allow two runs or fewer and get saddled with a loss despite a brilliant outing. Seemingly every time he takes the ball to the mound this season, he's poised to throw a near perfect game.
He's in the running to win his second Cy Young award, and at 26 years of age, he still has at least two years until he hits his prime.
Rangers' slugger Josh Hamilton will be the most highly sought-after free agent this offseason, and the deep-pocketed New York Yankees will be favored to scoop him up, among other teams such as the Boston Red Sox, who recently unloaded over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of salary.
If another team is able to pry Hamilton away from Texas and give him the max contact he'll be after, the Rangers will be substantially worse off.
Even though they'll be able to acquire other players as a result of potentially not signing Hamilton, a .300 average, 30 HR and 100 RBI or better every season is nearly impossible to replace.
One less superstar in the division gives the M's a better chance to succeed in the West.
The Seattle Mariners have an arsenal of young talent at their disposal, and they continue to play better as the season winds down.
Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and the outfield trio of Trayvon Robinson, Michael Saunders and Eric Thames (pictured above) have emerged as promising starters, and hopefully management keeps them around come season's end.
Pitchers Stephen Pryor, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen have been pleasant surprises as well this season, and Seattle's continued success is dependent on their longevity with the organization.
There's a lot of time between the end of a baseball season and the start of a new one, but the hope is that momentum will somehow carry over to 2013.
The Mariners are playing better than I've seen in many years, and the final month of 2012 will say a lot about next season, especially when the roster expands to 40 players and prospects such as Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker may finally get their chance to prove their worth at the next level.
If Seattle is able to keep their young guns on the roster, they'll be right in the mix in 2013 and beyond.