If you take a look at the league leaders after the first month of the season and compare them with what they look like today, you'll see that success early in the year doesn't guarantee success down the stretch. Players can go from studs to duds in what seems like a blink of the eye.
Whether it be injury, inexperience, fatigue or a combination of those and other factors, some players simply can't keep it together when the regular season enters the home stretch.
We see this year after year, and 2013 is no different.
Let's take a look at three players who were studs for most of the season—but who are going to disappoint both their teams and fanbases as the season nears its end.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arguably the National League's MVP for much of the season, Paul Goldschmidt heads into the stretch with his chances of taking home the game's highest single-season individual honor looking very much like Arizona's chances of making the playoffs—remote.
The 25-year-old has a total of two hits in his last seven games (30 plate appearances), and while some will say that it's only a minor slump, his career totals in each month tell a different story:
The NL's RBI leader has faded down the stretch.
Goldschmidt is hitting .259 against Arizona's remaining competition this season, and if we remove the Dodgers and Nationals from the mix, who account for 10 of the team's remaining 22 games, Goldschmidt is hitting only a combined .208 against Colorado, San Diego and San Francisco.
When you take that into account, along with his current struggles at the plate, don't expect much in the way of heroics out of "Goldy" for the rest of the season.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
Whether it's a case of fatigue or simply the toll that a season of losing can have on a person's psyche, Felix Hernandez doesn't throw the ball like a member of baseball's royal family as the regular season comes to a close.
Since breaking into the big leagues in 2005, September and, on rare occasions, October, have traditionally seen King Felix become ineffective—by King Felix standards, anyway:
This year, Hernandez's slide began a month early.
Over his last six starts (dating back to August 6), Hernandez has pitched about as poorly as he ever has, going 1-5 while allowing 24 earned runs and 38 hits in 33.2 innings of work—a 6.42 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. The opposition has hit .284/.340./.396 during that stretch.
If we only look at his last four starts, those numbers get significantly worse: a 7.84 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and opposing batting line of .294/.351/.412.
Part of the problem could be Hernandez's back, which forced him to leave his last outing early.
The Mariners insist that it was nothing more than a cramp sustained on a hot day, but with manager Eric Wedge telling MLB.com's Robert Falkoff that the team was going to be "cautious" with its ace and push his next start back to Wednesday, it makes you wonder.
Certainly, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Hernandez has been pitching through back pain since his slide began, forced to admit that something was wrong only when the pain became too much for him to deal with.
Between his barking back and a history of un-Felix-like performances down the stretch, don't look for any heroics from Hernandez for the rest of the season.
Jeff Locke, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
When he rejoins Pittsburgh's starting rotation on Saturday, all Jeff Locke is looking to do is "stop the bleeding," as he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Bill Brink earlier this week.
After you take a look at his splits on the season, you might be inclined to agree with the idea that "bleeding" is an understatement:
|April 7 to July 21||19||9-2||2.11||1.11||115.0||77||27||51/79|
|July 26 to August 27||7||0-2||7.02||2.28||33.1||53||26||23/31|
Those are some ugly numbers right there, numbers that led to Locke finding himself back in Double-A at the end of August.
GM Neal Huntington noted in the team's press release that the demotion was meant to give Locke a "short break." There's no reason to believe, though, that essentially skipping one of Locke's starts is going to change anything.
No pitcher in the National League has walked more batters than Locke, who has lasted more than five innings only twice over his last six starts—a stark contrast from earlier this year, when he failed to pitch into the sixth inning only once in his first 19 starts.
The 25-year-old's comments to Brink don't exactly fill you with confidence, either, and with his return to the rotation coming against Cincinnati, one of the teams that Pittsburgh is trying to fend off for the NL Central crown, the Pirates are taking a pretty big risk by running him out there.
Sure, Locke has gone undefeated in three starts against Cincinnati with a 1.00 ERA this season. But he hasn't faced the team since July 21—and he's walked more Reds (11) than he's struck out (nine).
When you take his recent issues into account, that's a recipe for disaster.
While I still believe that Pittsburgh will wind up winning the division, relying on Locke down the stretch is going to make achieving that goal more difficult than it has to be.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of September 6.