July is always fun.
Days at the beach, lazy times around the barbecue and yellowjackets abound.
I saw a ranking on Buzzfeed the other day, and July was picked the most fun month by 73 percent of Americans who prefer flip-flops over heels, or something like that.
We jest about that, but in any ranking of the 12 months, July has to be in the top three, right? Or it should be.
And this July should finish on a real enjoyable roll.
That’s because it’s trade season in major league baseball. And we may finally find out if the 2017 version of the Mariners is a true playoff contender.
Those two are related you know.
If the M’s are contenders for their first postseason berth since 2001, then they will be players in the trade market. They have to be, and not just because it’s expected.
It’s mandatory because they could use another starting pitcher and maybe another lefty in the bullpen.
But those two commodities are sort of like unicorns this time of year. They may be out there, but usually they end up being one-horned goats.
Contenders, or teams that feel as if they are contenders, still look for them.
Take the Washington Nationals for example. They have a solid squad, a championship contender.
But their bullpen, for lack of a better word, has underachieved this season. It is last in baseball in earned run average and opposing batting average.
So what did general manager Mike Rizzo do? He made changes.
The Nationals traded a disposable asset, reliever Blake Treinan, and two of their top 20 prospects to the Oakland A’s.
In return Washington picked up two solid relievers, left-hander Sean Doolittle, who has a 3.38 ERA and has yet to yield a hit to a left-handed batter this season, and right-hander Ryan Madson, whose ERA is 2.06 with a 0.79 WHIP.
The future is now in our nation’s capitol.
It may also be in Chicago, where the Cubs traded for left-handed starter Jose Quintana, who is expected to re-invigorate the struggling defending champions.
The players see such a deal as a commitment from management, despite their 46-45 record.
The Cubs reached that mark Sunday as Quintana threw seven shutout innings.
The Mariners are nearing the .500 mark again themselves, courtesy of the first three-game sweep in Chicago since 2003.
Sunday’s 7-6 10-inning win, the winning margin courtesy of another Nelson Cruz home run, pulled Seattle to 46-47 and within 2 1/2 games of the second wild-card spot.
More importantly, there are just two teams – Minnesota and Kansas City – between Seattle and the Yankees, who currently hold the Mariners’ brass ring.
To wrest it away, general manager Jerry Dipoto needs to strengthen the pitching – for a couple reasons.
They need pitchers.
Seattle is third in the American League in hitting. It is fifth in on-base percentage and fourth in runs scored.
But the pitching is still struggling, despite the bullpen’s recent hot streak.
The starters’ ERA of 4.71 is better than just five other American League teams. Their batting average against is the worst in the A.L. West. And the group has yielded more home runs (89, pitching half the time in Safeco) than just two other teams in baseball.
The bullpen is better in almost every category, but the stress the starters put on the group may make July and August and September a summer of attrition.
Dipoto, despite his reputation as Trader Jerry, has shown in the past he doesn’t just buy or sell at the deadline. He likes to make changes, picking up pieces that will help this season and sending off others to bolster the minor league talent pool.
But this group may need a more tangible boost. One that tells the clubhouse he, and the organization, is all in.
Yet he may not feel that’s smart, as this group even with the addition of a Quintana or Doolittle-type talent, may not be good enough to go far in the postseason.
So he may be more cautious, adding secondary pieces – read, inexpensive – that don’t move the excitement needle but could help in the pennant race.
The other, more flamboyant moves? Usually, the M’s leave them for someone else.
After all, July in Seattle is beautiful and fun and nearly yellowjacket-free no matter what happens at Safeco.
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