The deeper we get into the regular season, the harder it becomes for players to elevate their games.
Not only do months of wear and tear begin to take their toll on a player's body, but for those players who find themselves on teams that are out of contention for a playoff spot, the mental aspect of the game begins to wear on them as well.
At one point or another, it wouldn't be surprising for those players to think to themselves, "Aside from a paycheck, what's the point of it all? We aren't going anywhere this season. I just want this to be over already."
For a handful of players, however, that defeatist mentality never sunk in over the past month, and any aches and pains they may be dealing with were pushed aside as they elevated their games to new heights.
Let's take a look at five players who stood out above the rest in August.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Unless you are a fan of the San Francisco Giants or a family member, Brandon Belt's name isn't one of the first that comes to mind when you're talking about major league first basemen.
After a sensational August, it might be time for that to change.
Belt led all MLB first basemen with a .350 batting average and 196 wRC+ in August, finishing just behind Baltimore's Chris Davis (1.054) for the OPS lead. Something you don't expect to see from corner infielders is a plethora of triples, but Belt was tied with four speedy outfielders for the MLB lead, legging out a trio of three-baggers.
You have to go back to August of 1991, more than 20 years ago, when Will Clark hit .347 with seven home runs, 28 RBI and a 1.086 OPS, to find the last time that San Francisco had a first baseman put together as good a month as Belt did in August.
While his surge won't help the Giants defend their World Series championship, it gives the team hope that Belt will be a key part of the team's lineup for years to come, leaving one less area for general manager Brian Sabean to focus on upgrading this winter.
Brian Duensing, RP, Minnesota Twins
What do Brian Duensing and Walter Johnson have in common, aside from the fact that both pitched for the Twins? (Johnson technically pitched for the Washington Senators, who eventually became the Minnesota Twins, but you get the idea.)
Who better to ask than Dustin Morse, Minnesota's director of baseball communications:
That's pretty impressive, as were Duensing's numbers in August.
According to Baseball-Reference's Play Index (subscription required), only nine other pitchers in baseball history—including two this season (David Robertson and Koji Uehara, both in July)—have equaled Duensing's success out of the bullpen in August, allowing no earned runs while walking no more than one batter and fanning at least 16.
If nothing else, Duensing's performance in August ensures that he'll be looking at a raise through arbitration once the season comes to an end.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
If you ever wondered what all the hubbub about Brett Lawrie was, you got your answer in August.
Lawrie was on fire at the plate, hitting safely in 24 of Toronto's 29 games while picking up 11 multi-hit performances along the way. Some of those hits were largely inconsequential in Toronto's 12 wins on the month, while others played a much bigger part:
With the exception of the first month he spent in MLB, back in August of 2011, this was the best month Lawrie has ever had with the bat over his three-year career.
But even his sweet swing fails to measure up to the show that Lawrie put on with the glove.
And then there were these two gems:
While he was an easy target for blame earlier this season, you can't point the finger at Lawrie when looking for a reason why Toronto went 12-17 in August, the team's fourth losing month of the season. Only 23, Lawrie has reaffirmed that while roster changes are coming this winter, third base isn't an area of concern.
Martin Prado, 3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Four months into his Arizona career, Martin Prado looked like half the player the Diamondbacks thought they were getting from Atlanta as the centerpiece of the Justin Upton trade. The versatility was there, with Prado spending time at four different positions (2B, 3B, SS and LF), but the bat was relatively silent.
Once August hit, so did Prado.
Prado not only led the National League in hits with 43, but in RBI as well, one behind Miguel Cabrera and Alfonso Soriano for the top spot in August for all of baseball.
Not to be outdone by his younger counterpart in Toronto, the 29-year-old Prado has flashed some impressive leather at the hot corner as well:
While Prado has been on a tear since the All-Star break, it's likely too little, too late for a Diamondbacks club that finds itself 11.5 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and six games out of the second NL Wild Card berth.
Alfonso Soriano, LF, New York Yankees
If you're one of those baseball fans who believes that batting average is an overrated statistic, then Alfonso Soriano is the poster boy for your movement, as his mediocre .257 mark does a terrible job of telling his story in August.
The 37-year-old outfielder injected some much-needed life into the team's offense, putting the "Bombers" back in the Bronx while putting his name alongside a trio of Yankees legends in the MLB record books:
Not only did Soriano match Miguel Cabrera in home runs for the month, but he equaled the Triple Crown winner in RBI as well with 31, the second highest monthly total in MLB this season, trailing only Cabrera's 33 RBI in April.
Accounting for nearly a quarter of the team's offense in August, the Yankees went 8-3 in games that Soriano drove in a run; 8-9 when he didn't.
He's played excellent defense in left field as well, flashing his athleticism, glove and throwing arm—lest we believe that Soriano's August was all offense and nothing else.
When the Yankees traded for Soriano towards the end of July, nobody in their wildest dreams expected Soriano to raise his game to this level. If we're being honest, nobody really thought Soriano could raise his game to this level at this point in his career.
Without his play in August, the Yankees would not be in contention heading into the season's final month.
Whether Soriano has enough magic left in his bat to keep this up could be the difference between the team sneaking into the playoffs and missing them for only the second time since 1995.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and current through games as of August 31.
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