As if the competitive landscape in baseball was not already rumbling from the addition of a second wild-card team this season, the trade deadline proved to make things a whole lot more interesting.
Heading into the month of July, some 18 teams had a viable chance of making the playoffs.
The chess game known as trade season was about to commence. The strategic movement of parts to enhance one's team would allow for the most cerebral part of the game to be played.
With roughly 30 games to go in the 2012 season, these are the teams that have seen or will see the greatest, most immediate return from their in-season trades.
The Atlanta Braves are currently in second place in the National League East with a 74-59 record. That said, as of today, they have the first wild-card spot in the NL.
The Braves are 16-15 since adding Paul Maholm to the lineup.
They have seen their 3.5-game deficit in the NL East expand to 6.5 games.
Since arriving to Atlanta, Maholm has gone 2-3 with a 2.45 ERA in five starts, one of which was a shutout. In addition, he has only posted a 0.982 WHIP.
The woes of the Braves are not the fault of Maholm, that is for certain. In his three losses, the Braves have been outscored, 10-3.
If the offense can straighten up and be consistent, Maholm can be a vital part to the rotation as they make their postseason run.
The Baltimore Orioles are just three games back in the American League East with a 73-59 record, and they currently own the second wild-card spot in the AL.
The team is 4-2 since the addition of Joe Saunders, who contributed one of the two losses.
In his one start for the O's, Saunders took the loss to the White Sox, lasting 5.1 innings with a 10.13 ERA and a 2.25 WHIP. This, after giving the Diamondbacks a 6-10 record with a 4.22 ERA and 1.362 WHIP.
Is Saunders a name that will shake the earth? Absolutely not, but he has always been a fairly consistent pitcher.
Somehow, the O's are stringing together wins. The addition of another veteran starting pitcher was a wise move, albeit his first outing for the team may not give Baltimore fans the warmest of feelings.
In general, the O's starting pitchers aren't giving the team many wins. For the most part, it is the work of the offense and the bullpen.
Saunders is the type of pitcher that can go deep into games (other than that whole fiasco against the White Sox), which means the team doesn't have to overextend the bullpen.
Historically, Saunders has only pitched in Camden four times, with a 3-1 record and a 5.87 ERA and 1.826 WHIP.
More importantly, the O's rolled the dice assuming they'll be facing the Athletics for the wild-card playoff. Saunders is 13-4 lifetime against Oakland with a 3.34 ERA and 1.284 WHIP.
In Oakland, he is 6-1 with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.289 WHIP, should he be the man to toe the rubber in a showdown.
The Reds were ready to roll into the season with Ryan Madson as their closer.
Obviously, that didn't happen.
Though the team had been playing fantastic baseball, they felt the need to add a proven late-inning pitcher to their bullpen.
The Reds are currently atop the National League Central with a 81-53 record. Since July 31st, the team has gone 19-12, maintaining their lead on the division and owning the best record in the National League.
Since coming over to the Reds, Broxton is 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA and a 1.444 WHIP through 10 games and nine innings of work.
He hasn't been quite as dominant as the Reds would have liked thus far, but he has been far from disappointing. He has racked up five holds while the Reds have won nine of the 10 games in which he has appeared.
In his 89 career games facing potential NL postseason opponents (he's never faced the Dodgers), Broxton is 8-7 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.341 WHIP.
The Chicago White Sox are sitting on top of the American League Central with a 72-60 record and the Detroit Tigers hot on their heels. Knowing full well that the division race would be a tight one, the White Sox made a couple of big moves this season to increase their odds of postseason play.
Acquisition of Kevin Youkilis on June 25th
Since pulling off a trade that brought Kevin Youkilis to the team, the Chicago White Sox are 34-25.
Bringing Youk to Chicago certainly has benefited both sides. Youkilis went from batting .233/.315/.377/.692 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 42 games for the Boston Red Sox to a .240/.358/.455/.813 batting line with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in 55 games for the White Sox.
The White Sox actually have some power potential out of their third baseman this season.
Acquisition of Brett Myers on July 21st
The other shoe to drop for the White Sox was the addition of bullpen help.
Since bringing Myers on board, the White Sox have gone 22-16 and maintained their division lead. In 20 appearances, he is 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.071 WHIP, and he has racked up six holds for the team.
Adding a key cog to both the offense and bullpen was a tremendous move for the White Sox in an effort to stave off the Tigers and keep the Central crown.
While yes, the Sox did trade for Francisco Liriano as well, the importance of Youk and Myers in the postseason will be felt in greater abundance.
The Detroit Tigers are fighting for their postseason lives.
They currently sit just one game behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central with their 71-61 record. They are just 2.0 games out of the wild-card race.
With Doug Fister seeming a little off his game this season, the Tigers wanted to add another quality arm to their rotation to surround ace Justin Verlander.
Since acquiring Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins, the Tigers have gone 19-17.
In his six starts, Sanchez is 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA and a 1.676 WHIP. He has given the Tigers four quality starts despite taking beatings at the hands of the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins.
As the postseason nears, the teams the Tigers should be focusing on are the White Sox (obviously), Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Oakland.
Sanchez has never faced the White Sox or the A's.
In five games against the Orioles and Rays, he owns a 2-1 record with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.198 WHIP.
Detroit needed to give its rotation some help, and adding Sanchez—a career 3.81 ERA and 1.365 WHIP pitcher—was definitely a smart step towards closing the gap(s) for their postseason appearance.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have not had the season they envisioned upon signing both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this past winter.
By all accounts, the Halos should have been running away with the division by this point. On paper, they had the most impressive team across the board, yet they have been unsuccessful in living up to expectations.
They currently sit 8.5 games out in the American League West race. They are still in the wild-card race for what it's worth, sitting 3.5 back of the second spot.
That said, they would have to catapult the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles to see postseason play.
Since acquiring Zack Greinke on the 27th of July—a move that the team thought would right the ship—the Angels have gone 16-18, watching their grasp on October baseball slip away.
Greinke struggled early in his starts with the Angels. Though he owns a 3-2 record in his seven starts, his ERA is 4.82 in Anaheim with a 1.393 WHIP going into Labor Day.
In his 21 games for the Milwaukee Brewers before the trade, Greinke owned a 9-3 record with a 3.44 ERA and 1.203 WHIP.
Despite only winning three games for the Angels, Greinke has at least provided six quality starts.
What should be inspiring for Angel fans is how he dismantled the Detroit Tigers lineup on August 24th, going 7.2 innings allowing only one run to that formidable offense.
If Greinke can continue his trend of positive outings, the Angels could find themselves scratching and clawing for a wild-card berth.
Since the Los Angeles Dodgers started making trade waves on July 25th by acquiring third baseman Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins, the team has gone just 19-17 heading into Labor Day.
Along would come Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and Joe Blanton within the next several weeks, giving the Dodgers an All-Star-caliber lineup across the board.
However, the problem is that the results have not really been there yet.
The team went the month of August playing just .500 ball, with a 14-14 record. That, of course, came after the additions of Ramirez, Victorino and Blanton.
Though the "trade heard 'round the world" happened on August 25th, the team has only gone 4-5 since beefing up the lineup.
That should be cause for concern among Dodgers' new ownership.
In their last 10 games, the San Francisco Giants have gone 7-3, increasing their lead in the NL West.
Since coming to the Dodgers, Gonzalez has seen his batting line drop considerably. In Boston, he was a .300/.343/.469/.812 hitter.
So far for the blue, he is a .211/.268/.342/.610 hitter. Not exactly what the team had in mind, regardless of the fact he is only nine games into his Dodger career.
On the flip side, Ramirez has seen his production increase in L.A. With the Marlins, he was obviously disgruntled. Then again, describing Hanley Ramirez as a disgruntled player is about as obvious a statement as "Rocky is the greatest movie of all time."
Clearly there is no room for debate there. I digress.
Han-Ram went from being a .246/.322/.428/.749 hitter in Miami to a .283/.348/.538/.886 hitter on the left coast.
Victorino is a player, like Gonzalez, who has seen a dip in his production in Los Angeles. Though not as drastic, his .261/.324/.401/.724 line must have been left on the plane from Philly.
Instead, the flyin' Hawaiian boasts a .248/.311/.339/.649 batting line for the Dodgers. Maybe it has to do with the time change? Jet lag?
When his second pitch as a Dodger was blasted out of the park by the Colorado Rockies' Tyler Colvin, it appeared as though a premonition was coming to fruition.
That said, Beckett managed to settle down and has gone on to split his decisions thus far, going 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.378 WHIP for the Dodgers.
Red Sox fans would have killed to have the 2.92 ERA Beckett over the 5.23 ERA version they saw this season.
If the Dodgers can find a way to work cohesively, they can still grab a wild-card spot. They are currently 4.5 games behind the Giants in the NL West, but only 0.5 behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card slot.
With 26 games left to play, the Dodgers need to catch fire and play better-than-.500 baseball.
Consistently sitting atop the American League all season long, let alone the American League East, the New York Yankees have found a way to win by using low-cost veterans mixed in with younger talent.
Typically, the Yankees are tied to every possible deal that could be made at any time of the year, and they even scout players from other planets.
I'm kidding, of course, but the Yankees have been phenomenal at identifying talent and taking risks over the past couple years.
This season proved to be no different. On July 23rd, the team dealt for Seattle Mariners outfielder and franchise mainstay, Ichiro Suzuki, in a move that pretty much nobody saw coming.
Since making the change in coasts, Ichiro has seen his numbers increase. He was batting .261/.288/.353/.642 before coming to the Big Apple. As a member of the Yankees, Ichiro's batting line has jumped to .281 BA, .308 OBP, .414 SLG and a .722 OPS.
The Yankees, despite the positive play of Ichiro, have managed just a 19-19 record since the 10-time All-Star came to town.
For those keeping score at home, the Yankees are only two games over .500 since July 1st.
They have seen their lead in the American League East dwindle down to just two games over the Baltimore Orioles and 3.5 over the Tampa Bay Rays.
In what was going to be a runaway division title for the Yankees just at the end of June, when they went 20-7, the team has severely fallen back to earth.
The Oakland A's are just three games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
Let me say that again, so it sinks in...
If you thought this would have happened for the A's this season, please, share next week's winning lottery numbers with me.
At 76-57, the Athletics share an identical record with the New York Yankees. They own the top American League wild-card spot and have a 87.7 percent chance of being in the playoffs this season, according to Cool Standings.
The team made the move for Stephen Drew on August 20th in an attempt to add more offense from their shortstop position while also boosting their defense.
Since coming to Oakland, Drew has flourished. While in Arizona, Drew was in the middle of one of his worst seasons as a major league ballplayer. He owned a .193/.290/.311/.601 batting line with 12 RBI in 40 games.
In his 11 games with Oakland, a switch has been flipped. Drew is batting .262/.347/.405/.752 with four RBI already.
Since coming on board, the A's have gone 11-2 with Stephen Drew, including their recent nine-game winning streak.
The A's are absolutely red-hot right now and extremely exciting to watch.
Despite having monster months in June and July, where the team went 34-19, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been on the business end of a sledgehammer, going just 11-19 since August 1st.
While, on paper, the idea of bringing in another front-of-the-rotation starter looked to be just what the Bucs needed, Rodriguez just hasn't been that pitcher.
In his seven games for the Pirates, he has made six starts, owning a 2-4 record with a 4.12 ERA and 1.424 WHIP in that period.
Rodriguez has allowed 18 runs in 39.1 innings of work.
Since his arrival, he has given the Pirates four quality starts. In turn, the Pirates have just gone 16-21 since Rodriguez came over from the Houston Astros.
Obviously Rodriguez is not the problem, though he is a part of it. Unless the Pirates can turn things around quickly, they sit 1.5 games back for the second NL Wild Card and would need to jump over the Cardinals and the Dodgers or Giants.
Not exactly an easy task.
With their division rivals having already made moves to acquire Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino, the Giants needed to do something.
Lucky for them, the team brought in Hunter Pence just before Melky Cabrera found his way to a suspension.
Had the Giants not made this move, the team feared they would have missed the opportunity for serious production in their lineup, accounting for Pence to be added to the middle of the lineup.
With the deal having been made, the loss of Cabrera wasn't as painful as it could have been.
Since coming to the Giants from the Phillies, Hunter Pence has seen his production dip, batting .233/.291/.358/.649, as opposed to the .271/.336/.447/.784 batting line he owned in Philly.
The Giants, despite the shortfalls of Pence, have been extremely hot, going 20-11 since August 1st, widening their lead on the NL West to 4.5 games over the Dodgers.
Though it hasn't been pretty every outing, Ryan Dempster keeps winning for the Texas Rangers.
The team has the best record in the American League with a 79-54 and are looking towards another deep run in October.
When the Rangers made the move for Dempster, it was thought of as a block move to keep him out of New York. If that were the case or not, it's irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is Dempster's 4-1 record since coming to the Rangers.
He owns a 4.58 ERA, which is more than double his 2.25 ERA in Chicago for the Cubs. He has also seen his 1.066 WHIP jump to a 1.366 in the American League.
In his six starts for the Rangers, Dempster has managed five quality starts, and the team has a 5-1 record on days he has pitched.
As for the Rangers, the addition of Dempster has helped the team go on a 20-11 since August 1st. In short, it was a fine addition that has helped to bolster the rotation for an attempted third consecutive American League Championship.