As it turns out, acquiring a proven starter at the Trade Deadline to improve a club's postseason aspirations often requires not only a fair share of prospects and cash, but also a great deal of patience.
The immediate returns from this year's Deadline deals involving Zack Greinke (Angels), Ryan Dempster (Rangers), Anibal Sanchez (Tigers) and Wandy Rodriguez (Pirates) all raised red flags and had fans wondering if their club's midseason move was a mistake.
Each pitcher has since turned the corner, however, and has become a driving force in his team's respective playoff push, as was expected at the time of acquisition. In fact, all four of those hurlers have a sub-2.00 ERA over their past five starts.
Take Greinke. The Angels acquired the veteran right-hander on July 27, hoping he could make the difference in the American League Wild Card race.
But Greinke was far from successful over his first five starts with the Halos, notching just one win while posting an unsightly 6.19 ERA. In his five starts since, Greinke is 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA and would have won all five of those outings if not for the bullpen's ninth-inning collapse in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Royals.
After each getting off to a slow start with his new team, these key Trade Deadline acquisitions have all ramped it up over their past five starts.
Rec. (last five)
"He's pretty even-keel," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think that's why he's successful. I think he really competes very well. I don't think he gets too up for big games. I think he's just pitching his game now, and that's a great trait to have as a pitcher."
Just four days after the Angels acquired Greinke, the AL West-rival Rangers countered by making a move for 37-year-old veteran Ryan Dempster. His first start was a disaster -- allowing eight runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Angels -- and he conceded another eight-run performance less than two weeks later against the Yankees.
Three starts into his Rangers career, Dempster's 8.31 ERA might have had Greinke's start with the Angels looking not so bad after all. But like Greinke, Dempster has ramped it up a few notches, winning each of his five outings since and dominating opposing ballclubs to the tune of a 1.91 ERA.
"I'm just trying to focus on each start and not worry about the previous one," Dempster said after not allowing an earned run over six innings in his sixth start with Texas. "I threw good pitches, kept the ball down and out of the middle of the plate. That's how I've been throwing the ball all year, and I'm trying to stay in that groove."
The pitching lines for Sanchez (acquired July 23 from the Marlins) and Rodriguez (acquired one day later from the Astros) have followed an identical pattern.
Sanchez went just 1-3 with a 7.97 ERA in his first four starts with the Tigers, but he is 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA since. Likewise, Rodriguez went winless over his first four starts with the Pirates, but has since gone 4-1 in six appearances (five starts) with a 1.83 ERA.
"I feel great," Rodriguez said after notching his first victory as a Pittsburgh starter on Aug. 29. "I came here to help the team, so when I win, I feel better."
Rodriguez is feeling even better now, as he's won two of his three September starts while helping keep the Pirates in the thick of the National League Wild Card hunt.
As for Sanchez, his turning point came after a meeting with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones in mid-August.
"Don't press," Jones said he told Sanchez during that exchange. "Don't try to do more than what you can. I told him, 'You're going to be huge for us down the stretch. You've been successful before and you're going to be successful again.'"
Even Joe Saunders -- acquired by the Orioles in late August -- stumbled in his first start, but has recovered nicely in his past three.
Overall, these five pitchers who joined contenders to aid in a postseason push went 0-3 with a 7.45 ERA in their debuts with their new teams. They are 20-11 with a much more respectable 3.42 ERA in 40 combined starts since.
"I guess the main thing was not worrying about messing up," Greinke said after finally finding his groove with the Angels in late August. "I was already doing so bad, so one more bad game isn't a big deal. I was just kind of pitching and letting things happen, and it's been working good ... doing it that way."
Any time a player switches teams midseason, it's not unreasonable to account for a certain adjustment period as he adapts to new teammates, surroundings and -- when switching leagues -- opponents. Sometimes the circumstances even include being shipped from a cellar dweller to a contender, undoubtedly adding an extra degree of pressure.
Dempster, for example, hadn't made a meaningful September start -- in terms of playoff implications -- since 2009 when the Cubs finished second in the NL Central. He now finds himself trying to hold off the A's in the AL West every time he makes the mound, and he will be a key part of a rotation that figures to pitch into October.
"I was in a situation where you're playing for pride [with the Cubs], and now you're pitching to win a division title and go to the playoffs," Dempster said. "I'm trying to do my part and be prepared, and do the best I can."