Sitting on a dugout bench in mid-July, Clint Hurdle was talking about hope.
When it was suggested to him there might be two kinds of hope – legitimate and unfounded – the manager who 10 months before led the Colorado Rockies from a seven-game division deficit to the World Series shook his head.
"Isn't hope hope?" he asked.
And then the Rockies lost again.
But that really wasn't the point.
July is gone, and hope thins in places, thickens in others, but survives almost everywhere. Almost.
To that, we bid farewell to ballclubs from Washington to Seattle, from San Diego to Baltimore. That still leaves a lot of teams, including in Hurdle's NL West, where hope never dies.
Teams of July
Los Angeles Angels (19-6): The Angels had their biggest offensive month, production coming from Howie Kendrick, Garret Anderson and Torii Hunter. Their starting pitching wasn't as strong as it had been, but the bullpen became consistent again, and now they've all but buried the rest of the AL West. They're just waiting on Vladimir Guerrero, who is in danger of batting worse than .300 for the first time since 1996, when he played only nine games. Annually, August is his most productive month. If not, well, Mark Teixeira had a 10-homer, 32-RBI August for his new team – the Braves – last year.
New York Mets (18-8): A nice run by Willie Randolph's old crew, an ascension Randolph kicked off in June by winning his final two games before getting jabbed in the Anaheim darkness. Apparently, Willie was a real drag on Mike Pelfrey, Carlos Delgado and Fernando Tatis. In what could be a break-through month for what had become a listless franchise, the Mets tightened up the pitching and led baseball in on-base percentage.
Milwaukee Brewers (16-9): Considering the way it ended, the Brewers probably won't look back on July too fondly. That four-game thumpin' at the hands of the Cubs (three of the losses with CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Manny Parra starting) was by a total of 20 runs, and it won't be easily forgotten. That said, the Brewers were 8½ games back on June 15, six back on July 12 and tied for first in the NL Central on July 26. A win against the Cubs would have been nice, too, but you can't have everything, and July remains a potentially pivotal month for them.
Colorado Rockies (17-10): Through the first half of the season, the five NL West teams combined for one winning month: Arizona's April. Despite a very messy race and because of some of the more inept offenses in the game, the West is vulnerable to one good run from the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and even the Rockies, whose 163 July runs were the most in either league. Troy Tulowitzki came off the DL and batted .418.
New York Yankees (15-10): In a down offensive month, they traded for Xavier Nady. At a time when their bullpen was at its most reliable, they traded for Damaso Marte. Jorge Posada's out? Insert Pudge Rodriguez. OK, a good month. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano drove the scoring, the Joba Chamberlain transition hit its stride, Edwar Ramirez is a solid late-inning option for Joe Girardi and the Red Sox and Rays look vulnerable.
Los Angeles Dodgers (16-10): Another hot NL West club? Seriously? The Dodgers had the majors' best ERA in July, late in the month posting shutouts in four of five games. The schedule was kind, serving them 13 games in the division and three against the Nationals.
They're glad it's August
Washington Nationals (5-19): The Nationals' pitching staff had a 4.06 ERA for the month, which isn't bad. In fact, it was better than 21 other teams. So, yes, the offense was pathetic again. But, not nearly as pathetic as the …
San Francisco Giants (8-15): … who scored a league-worst 82 runs, and batted .230, and had a team on-base percentage of .280. Tough months for Bengie Molina (.183), John Bowker (.194), Omar Vizquel (.237).
Oakland A's (8-17): Jenga! Building for a time the Angels aren't any good anymore, and so subtracting pitchers one at a time, Billy Beane had July collapse all over the kitchen floor. Starters' ERAs were up more than a run over June, and relievers' were up more than half a run. The A's also averaged barely three runs a game. So they lost 11 games in the standings to the Angels and checked out of the race.
San Diego Padres (9-16): Their month-by-month loss totals: 17, 17, 17, 16. Progress! The Padres have six losing streaks of four games or more and they couldn't hit their way out of a wet NL West.
Seattle Mariners (10-16): The good news, management still believes. Surveying a roster that will threaten 100 losses, the Mariners released Richie Sexson and traded Arthur Rhodes. Other than that, everything is fine.
Atlanta Braves (10-15): The Braves could have been a good team. But they wouldn't survive the losses (some permanent, others temporary) of John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. The trade of Mark Teixeira made it final.
Monthly awards (with July stats)
2. Carlos Delgado, New York Mets: .357, 9 home runs, 24 RBI
AL Cy Young
2. Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees: 2-1, 2.52 ERA
3. Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels: 0-1, 12 saves, 3.75 ERA
NL Cy Young
1. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies: 5-1, 1.74 ERA
2. CC Sabathia, Milwaukee Brewers: 4-0, 1.82 ERA
AL rookie pitcher: Brad Ziegler, Oakland A's: 11 more appearances, 17 more innings, still no runs
NL rookie player: Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies: .432, 1 home run, 15 RBI
Manny in Boston.
CC in Cleveland.
Tex in Atlanta.
Junior in Cincy.
Sexson in Seattle.
Yankee Stadium. The All-Star Game might have been the final national event on that side of the street.
Todd Jones, closer.
Bobby Murcer. Take care, Bobby. We'll miss you.
Manny in L.A.
CC in Milwaukee.
Tex in Anaheim.
Junior in Chicago.
Sexson in New York.
Blister in Chicago.
David Ortiz in Boston. After more than a month-and-a-half on the DL, Big Papi returns and hit .391 in six games.
Goose in Cooperstown. He laughed, he cried, he took his place alongside the great relievers in baseball history.
Tim Hudson's pajamas.
Fernando Rodney, closer.
Eric Gagne. Three wins in July. And, well, another 5-plus ERA.
Chris Carpenter. Back from the dreaded TJ, went four innings in Atlanta.
Anibal Sanchez. Marlins right-hander beats Colorado in his first big-league start in 15 months.
Why we won't forget July
New uniforms for the No. 3 hitter in Anaheim, the ace in Milwaukee, the eccentric in L.A.
Josh Hamilton wins home-run derby. He won, right?
Fifteen gripping innings on a perfect New York evening/night/morning.
A-Rod passes Mickey Mantle on career home-run list.
Ichiro reaches 3,000.
Why we should try
Manny's orchestrated/pouty/disrespectful exit from Boston.
Jose Guillen finds losing in Kansas City more than he can bear and doesn't want to hear it from Bob McClure.
A-Rod becomes career leader in back-page headlines.
Utley during derby intros: "Boo. [Bleep] you." Uh, is this on?
Who are you and what have you done to Jimmy Rollins?
Probe of skimming Latin American bonuses broadens.