Remember when the Seattle Mariners looked invincible while hitting home runs at a blistering pace, fueling hopes and dreams of fans all throughout the Pacific Northwest?
Over the course of the last week, it appears that the Mariners finally came back to Earth and settled into more of a routine. We are no longer seeing football scores on a daily basis.
Perhaps that's a bit disappointing, but in some respect that's not a bad thing as we start to get a better sample size of at-bats and innings to help determine the final roster. Besides, the offensive explosion, though fun while it lasted, was impossible to sustain. Hopefully it gave the M's some much-needed positive reinforcement to help kick-start this season.
Now that we've played a few weeks' worth of baseball, what can we say about the Mariners?
Some players have looked great thus far while keeping up with their solid starts. Others have either struggled or managed to get hurt in the process of prepping for this season.
But who has really surprised us? Who looks like a bust? And perhaps most importantly, who is hurt?
Without further ado, here's a quick status report on the M's...
I hate to jinx this, but Franklin Gutierrez has looked really good thus far in spring training.
Why is this surprising?
Well, let's just say that Guti has teased fans into believing in him on several occasions, only to have a freak injury or accident set him back the last few years.
It's hard not to root for him, especially with the stats he's putting up so far.
Can he keep it up?
Good question, but I think most of us would be satisfied if he could simply stay healthy.
Okay, perhaps it's a bit unfair to consider Kyle Seager a bust. But given all of the fireworks offensively, it's a bit surprising to see him struggle.
Maybe in another week things will change if he heats up.
On Wednesday against Kansas City, he notched two hits and drove in a run, but so far it's been hard to get excited watching Seager flirt with the Mendoza Line as we approach the halfway point of spring training.
I still believe that when push comes to shove Seager will get in gear and enjoy hitting within the revamped M's lineup.
For now, though, we need to keep patient.
Much like Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders had a breakout year in 2012, yet struggled in camp this year with the Mariners.
Then a little over a week ago, Saunders, Alex Liddi and Oliver Perez left camp to join their respective national teams for the World Baseball Classic.
I'm not sure about you, but to see Saunders named WBC Pool D MVP of Round 1 while representing Canada was a pleasant surprise when you consider the other teams (USA, Mexico and Italy) competing in the same group.
Keep in mind, Saunders won the MVP with, as Seattle Times writer Larry Stone quipped, "[a] stat line [that] reads like something out of Little League: eight hits in 11 at-bats, three doubles, a homer, four runs, seven runs batted in, two walks, a .727 batting average, .769 on-base percentage and 1.273 slugging percentage."
If his WBC performance is indicative of anything, it could be a good sign for the M's this season.
Right now, we will continue to wait and see if that can happen as he continues to struggle with the Mariners upon his return.
Someday, James Paxton may join his fellow Canadian Michael Saunders in the WBC. But right now it seems the two won't even be in the same clubhouse this spring, given he was just assigned to minor league camp according to Greg Johns at Mariners.com.
After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League a few months earlier, Paxton came to camp this spring with a small chance of making the roster along with fellow pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer and a few others.
While Hultzen and Maurer have looked solid, Walker and Paxton especially have struggled.
At the tender age of 20, Walker can be forgiven for his ups and downs. But to see Paxton posting some fairly crooked numbers so far this spring is really disappointing.
James Paxton, the Mariners' No. 5 prospect and No. 61 overall prospect, continued a rough stretch this spring by giving up four runs and needing 47 pitches to get through the first two innings before being replaced by Walker. Paxton, who was knocked out of his last Cactus League start after just two-thirds of an inning by the A's, didn't get much help from his teammates, either.
All four of Paxton's runs were unearned after a pair of errors by shortstop Nick Franklin in the second inning. The left-hander gave up three hits and a walk that frame and finished the day with four runs and four hits with one walk and no strikeouts.
It's worth keeping an eye on to see where he ends up starting the 2013 season, whether that's Triple-A Tacoma or back in Double-A Jackson.
Speaking of prospects, the Mariners have quite a few in camp this year that someday could make it to Seattle.
While you could argue that pitcher Brandon Maurer has looked the best thus far, infielder Stefen Romero has been the biggest surprise to me.
In seven games this spring, Romero posted some impressive stats, most of which came in one game where he hit two home runs and drove in seven runs.
Unfortunately, the very next day he strained his left oblique muscle and hasn't been back since.
It's unlikely that Romero would have made the final cut, but I would have been curious to see him try.
If the season were to start tomorrow, who would you choose as the No. 4 and 5 starters in the M's rotation, assuming that Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders are Nos. 1, 2 and 3?
For today I'd probably go with Erasmo Ramirez at No. 4, but at No. 5 I might be tempted to give veteran Jon Garland a shot over Blake Beavan.
It's well documented that Garland is a total reclamation project. He still needs to build up his strength after missing all of last season, yet I like what I see so far when compared to fellow veteran Jeremy Bonderman.
Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect from either this spring, but if Garland can continue to build upon what he's accomplished thus far in the next week or so, he might have a decent chance of making the final cut.
Speaking of that final spot in the rotation, I feel that I've tap-danced around Brandon Maurer enough to this point that I feel it would be wrong to ignore him.
Do I think he nails down that final spot in the rotation?
Probably not, given his age and experience, but that's okay for now.
What Maurer has shown us this spring is the capability to hang with the pros. Greg Johns at Mariners.com wonders what's next for the youngster in discussing Maurer with M's skipper Eric Wedge:
What exactly do the Mariners need to see from Maurer, who was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year last season for Double-A Jackson?
"It's a combination of things," Wedge said. "One, how he handles himself as a young pitcher. Two, just the way his stuff plays against big league hitters. And then you just look at how he continues to climb in regard to how we build him up and how he handles different situations and works through those situations. So far, we've seen all good things."
Good things indeed, given his numbers this spring.
Let's see if he keeps it up. If not, at the very least he should be ready to go back at Triple-A Tacoma with the confidence in knowing that his time will come sooner than later.
Last but not least, Carlos Peguero.
Could this be the year Peguero makes it to Seattle and stays?
I remain skeptical, as I'm sure most of you do too, yet so far this spring he's done everything that's been asked of him while hitting well over .300.
If anything, it's nice to see that the M's have a few options in the outfield this year to choose from rather than having to lean on someone like Peguero as either a reserve, a platoon player or a starter.
The same can be said for Casper Wells, Kelly Shoppach and Carlos Triunfel as well. They're players you may not want as everyday fixtures, but they're more than capable of filling in from time to time.
Today the Mariners are healthy, competitive and appear to be coming together as a team, which is as much as anyone can ask for at this time.
They may not be winning every day or hitting a ton of home runs anymore, but they have the look of a team that could be entertaining once the regular season starts.
Beyond that, I hesitate to get too excited just yet.
Yes, the team appears capable of hitting a baseball, but the pitching staff looks like a work in progress. The starting rotation needs a few spots filled. I will be curious to see how that goes, especially now that the roster has been trimmed down a bit with only Brandon Maurer remaining from the "Fab Four" left to compete against the likes of Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez and Jon Garland.
Other than that, I say sit back, enjoy the Arizona sunshine and start counting the days until Opening Day.