Ah the Seattle Mariners.
Just when you think they will fade away for the summer and let everyone pack up the bandwagon for the Seahawks march to the Super Bowl, they go out and become arguably one of the best teams in baseball for the month of July.
Seriously, this team was going nowhere fast before they decided to kick things up a notch over the past month while once again fighting for relevance in a city that was starting to lose interest fast.
Of course it wasn't all good news for the M's, as a few players struggled and the team's skipper Eric Wedge suffered a stroke.
What's next for Wedge and the rest of the club remains to be seen as we prepare for the final two months of the season, but for today I thought it might be worthwhile to hand out grades for every player based on their performance from over the course of the last month.
So without further ado, here are the Mariners' grades for July.
Ok, while I fully understand that the Mariners were an offensive juggernaut during the past month, I think it's important to give credit to the teams two All-Stars first.
In case you hadn't noticed, Felix was basically flawless during the month of July.
Three wins in five starts, while never surrendering more than two runs per outing, not to mention a solid inning pitched at the All-Star Game, is what we've come to expect from the M's face of the franchise.
I love watching Felix during the summer months. He always seems to find another gear this time of year.
As for the M's other All-Star representative, it wasn't a great month for Iwakuma, but the All-Star nod was well deserved.
Meanwhile, if his outing in Boston last night was indicative of what we should expect going forward this season, then I think we shouldn't get too hung up about his performance in July.
Believe it or not, for the better part of July Joe Saunders was arguably the M's second best starting pitcher.
Unfortunately, his last two outings have quickly washed away the belief that Saunders had finally turned a corner this season.
Instead, it always feels like you're walking a tightrope while watching him pitch, but all told he won four of his six starts for the month.
Hard to argue with those results, but let's not get too excited.
Did Aaron Harang have a bad month in July?
Not really, other than one bad start against the Red Sox, but watching him pitch does nothing for me.
At this point, I simply hope he gets through five innings during each start without getting torched before turning things over to the bullpen.
Like a lot of young players on this roster, I'm not sure what to make of Erasmo Ramirez performance in July.
Somehow he managed to win two games, but both those wins came with decent run support from the M's offense.
Will he continue to settle down now that he has a spot in the starting rotation?
I'd like to see that happen, yet I can't shake the notion that Ramirez may be best suited for the bullpen.
After a rough stretch in which he saw his job as closer taken away, it appears that Wilhelmsen is back on track.
Going a perfect eight-for-eight in saves this past month should hopefully put to rest any doubts about his legitimacy for quite a while, although a few more strikeouts wouldn't hurt.
Meanwhile, if we're talking about comebacks, Lucas Luetge has looked great since his return from Triple-A Tacoma giving up only one earned run in six appearances.
Unfortunately his seventh and final game this month was a two-plus-inning heartbreaking loss in extra innings, in which the M's lost despite the fact that they got 16 hits.
Rounding out the left side of the bullpen is veteran Oliver Perez, who I assumed the Mariners would ship off before the trade deadline.
Perhaps his uneven performance during the month of July scared off potential buyers or maybe the proposed returns for him weren't worth the effort?
Either way I'm hoping he rebounds during the month of August now that the trade deadline has finally passed.
Could Yoervis Medina someday be the M's closer?
Hard to say, given Tom Wilhelmsen has bounced back, but if Medina can avoid giving up home runs, he might have a shot.
For now I think the M's have a solid setup man who is still learning how to pitch in the majors.
Last but not least in the M's bullpen and the entire pitching staff, Danny Farquhar.
Depending on what day it is, Farquhar can be good, bad or ugly.
With Farquhar he's just as likely to give up either a hit or a walk as he is to strikeout a batter.
If he can ever find the right balance he might be decent, but until then he's best kept working in late innings once the game is out of reach for either better or worse.
As we switch to offense, one question continues to perplex me.
Has Justin Smoak finally turned the corner once and for all?
It's hard to find fault with his performance the past month, but I feel like we've been here a few times over the course of the past few years.
If Smoak can remain this steady for the better part of the next two months, perhaps the M's can once and for all cement his spot in the lineup.
Until that time comes, I will likely remain a bit skeptical, while also hoping I'm proven wrong.
Speaking of players I'm hoping prove me wrong, what can be said about Dustin Ackley at this stage of his career?
Upon his return to Seattle, he has neither impressed nor disappointed anyone with his performance.
I suppose on some level that's a good thing?
Yet while situated at the bottom of the batting order, I had hoped the team's recent success would have rubbed off a little on Ackley, but alas, it didn't appear to make much of a difference.
Sure, he's had a few decent games this past month, yet he is just as likely to disappear for stretches at a time as well.
At this point though, I'd like a larger sample of games to determine whether or not he has a future with the team.
While we're on the topic of high draft picks, let's just cut to the chase with Mike Zunino.
This here is a shame.
Just when it seemed that Zunino was getting the hang of playing every day, he goes down for what may end up being the remainder of the season with an injury to his hamate bone in his left wrist.
The good news is that just prior to the injury, Zunino started to put things together both at the plate and behind it.
The bad news is that we will never know how far he could have progressed this season if he had played the full season.
Unfortunately, the injury to Mike Zunino now leaves the burden of catching in the hands of Henry Blanco and Humberto Quintero.
Strange to think that Blanco, who was sitting at home a few weeks ago, now finds himself the M's potential everyday catcher at the age of 41.
At the plate I'm not sure we can expect too much, but from a defensive standpoint perhaps he can be serviceable?
Then again, maybe Henry Blanco can take a page from the book of his fellow 40-something teammate Raul Ibanez?
The ageless wonder continued to make the most of his opportunity with a yet another solid month in Seattle, but it seems that he is starting to show his age a bit more over the last few weeks.
Has Ibanez run out of gas, or does he simply need the occasional days worth of rest to help him bounce back?
Time will tell, but for some other vets their time has appeared to run out.
Well, I suppose it was nice while it lasted for Jason Bay.
Unfortunately for the better part of the past month Bay has appeared in name only for the M's and was designated for assignment earlier this week to make room for Mike Morse upon his return from the DL.
Whether anyone will notice the difference will be interesting to find out.
Speaking of players who may be at risk of being designated for assignment, could Endy Chavez be next?
Perhaps, but I suppose that depends on what the front office would like to do with Franklin Gutierrez.
In all fairness though, Chavez has done a decent job providing the M's with veteran depth this year, including a nice catch on Sunday to rob the Twins' Chris Collabello of a home run.
Of course if we're talking about stellar defense, it's hard to ignore Brendan Ryan.
And yet, I'm surprised he's still here.
With rookie Brad Miller taking over at shortstop, I had Ryan pegged as trade bait, as he's played only a handful of games this past month.
Maybe general manager Jack Zduriencik couldn't move him or perhaps they want to keep him around just in case Miller hits a wall?
While I'm not sure what to think of Brad Miller's prospects long-term, right now I can't take my eyes off of him.
At the end of the day that's usually a good sign for a team's lead-off hitter.
Paired alongside Nick Franklin, both up the middle at second and short and atop the M's batting order, it's exciting to see the two youngsters work together.
If they can manage to keep this up, the Mariners may be set for years to come.
When discussing Nick Franklin I want to be careful as it's only been two months.
At the same time, it's getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that Franklin might be the front runner for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Over the course of the past month I started to get a little worried that he would struggle a bit as teams started to scout him and his strikeouts have gone up, but to his credit he doesn't appear to let much of anything faze him.
Perhaps his numbers aren't on par with that of Yasiel Puig over in the National League or with those of Mike Trout last season, nevertheless Franklin looks like a keeper whether he wins the Rookie of the Year award or not.
Of course, if Nick Franklin wants to see what a true pro looks like, he simply needs to look over to third base at Kyle Seager.
Seager's month can be summed up in two words...rock steady.
What really impresses me about Seager is that he always finds a way to get the job done and looks like a potential leader for years to come.
What's sad is that I can't imagine anyone beyond the Pacific Northwest caring.
Meanwhile, what is there to say about Michael Saunders?
Honestly, I don't know anymore.
One minute he's either hitting a timely double, stealing a base or mashing a homer, the next he's gone without a trace.
Is this what we should come to expect of Saunders at this point? A guy who can occasionally do something exciting then disappear for three other at-bats a game?
This year I had hoped to see Saunders cement his spot in the lineup, yet so far he looks like a platoon/fourth outfielder, doing little to change my mind during the month of July.
Statistically speaking Kendrys Morales had a solid month of July as he continued to play well for the Mariners.
Yet as we enter the month of August, I'm a little surprised that after all that's happened this season that Morales is still a Mariner given he was probably the team's hottest trade chip.
Does this mean the M's are committed to signing him long-term or are they keeping him around to make sure that Justin Smoak doesn't turn back into a pumpkin while potentially netting a first round draft pick in the process?
Today neither question can be answered with any certainty, yet at the risk of sounding like a killjoy I'm still not sold on Morales.
Don't get me wrong, Morales is good, but let's not confuse good with great. It's been so long since we've seen someone like Morales in Seattle that I'm afraid we may be a little too excited by someone doing what they should be doing in their respective role.
Through 100 games, Morales has done his job, but with two months to go I want to see a little more. I want to see if Morales is committed to the Mariners and not just playing for his next contract.
I hate to single out Morales here, who seems like a good guy and a solid ballplayer, yet what we saw during the past month from the team had the potential earmarks of something solid long-term.
Guys like Kyle Seager and Nick Franklin look like keepers who should figure prominently in the team's future plans, but beyond them there are a lot of question marks.
Is Morales someone worth keeping beyond this season?
Like I said, I'm still not sure, but it's about time we find out.
Last but not least, I wanted to address the situation with M's manager Eric Wedge.
It's not often you have a situation like this occur in midseason, but the fact that Wedge had a stroke is no laughing matter.
While I will confess that I'm not his biggest fan, I do feel the need to wish him well and would like to see him back as soon as he is physically and mentally ready.
For as much as we have all complained and joked about his performance and that of the team during his tenure, what happened is very real and leaves me to wonder if we will ever see Wedge in uniform again for the Mariners.
Strangely enough, if at all possible I actually want Wedge back to see if he can finish the job he set out to accomplish.
The reality is that it may not happen.
It's sad in so many ways, but when you consider how close this team is to finally getting over the hump this season, it makes it that much harder to stomach.
At the end of the day, while baseball is only a game, your health is the most important thing you have.
Get well soon skip, but take all the time you need!
In the meantime let's see if bench coach Robby Thompson can make the most of his cameo.