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Top Seattle sports stories of 2017: James Paxton carries Mariners rotation in 2 stellar months

James Paxton started the season with big outings against the eventual champion Astros. (AP)

The 12 hosts of 710 ESPN Seattle have voted on the top Seattle sports stories of 2017. Each day we will count down to the top story of the year with an article by a different host. Today, Tom Wassell of Bob, Groz and Tom kicks off the countdown by covering the 12th biggest story of the year, Mariners pitcher James Paxton’s masterful months of April and July.

This was supposed to be the breakout year for James Paxton. And it was – kinda. Late in the season, we were talking about him as a legitimate candidate for the American League Cy Young Award. What was the reason for that? April and July.

Photo gallery: Paxton puts together huge months of April and July

Things couldn’t have started better for the 6-foot-4 lefty. In his season debut, he went six innings and allowed just two hits and no runs on the road against the eventual world champion Astros. He held them scoreless again in his next start and finished the month 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, putting together 23 straight scoreless innings along the way, the most ever to start a season in club history. Even though the team was 9-13 and sat in last place at this point, there was hope that the Mariners finally had not only had a pitcher that could provide some stability in the rotation, but one that could dominate in the same way Felix Hernandez had for so many years.

“If only one or two of the other pitchers in the rotation could just hold their own, the M’s would be a contender.” I must have said that on the air two-dozen times this year.

It was not to be, as Paxton went down with a forearm injury in early May, but that’s not where the story ended. He returned on May 31 and struggled through June before things completely turned around. His July was one of the best a Mariner pitcher has ever had as he became the first in franchise history to win six games in one month. Paxton went 6-0 with a 1.37 ERA, striking out 46 hitters and walking only six. He was named American League Pitcher of the Month for his accomplishment, and after nabbing another win to begin August, the Mariners sat at 56-55, just 1.5 games behind Kansas City for the second wild card spot.

A week later he was back on the DL with a strained pectoral muscle, and although the M’s hung in the race for another couple of weeks, a postseason berth seemed unlikely without their ace.

So what did we learn about James Paxton in 2017? When he’s healthy, he’s dominant and among the most exciting starters to watch in all of baseball. Every team covets that kind of talent, but when his physical well-being is a constant concern, it’s going to be tough for us fans to be comfortable with him alone at the top of the rotation.

A closer look at James Paxton’s two big months

Player of the Week James Paxton unaware award existed

Drayer: Paxton helping M’s in more ways than one

Stecker: Paxton the best pitcher in baseball (so far)

Paxton wins AL Player of the Week again

Paxton takes AL Pitcher of the Month award for July