The A's were six games out of first place in the American League West when left-hander Brett Anderson returned from the disabled list on Aug. 21 of last season. He promptly won four straight starts as his team began an improbable run to a division title.
Anderson's return provided exactly the kind of shot in the arm every contender covets as Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. He's a reminder that improvement doesn't necessarily have to come from outside the organization.
And the A's are thinking Anderson might have a similar second act in him. He could return for the final six weeks of the regular season after being sidelined in late April by a stress fracture in his right foot.
There could be stories like that all over baseball. As general managers of contending teams sort through their options, some of them hope to improve without making a single trade.
That's important in a year when executives say the market is extremely thin -- and extremely competitive -- for starting pitching and hitters. For instance, the Royals have begun listening to offers for right-hander Ervin Santana, but the early asking price in terms of prospects is so high that it's unclear whether he's really available.
Likewise, the White Sox and Astros are staging a daily auction for Jake Peavy and Bud Norris. As for offensive help, unless Raul Ibanez, Hunter Pence and Kendrys Morales are made available -- and at the moment, they're not -- contending teams may settle for tweaking their rosters with bullpen additions.
So in the wake of Tim Hudson's season-ending ankle injury, the Braves are hoping right-hander Brandon Beachy will be able to contribute at a high level when he comes off the DL on Monday and makes his 2013 debut.
Atlanta is still shopping for pitching help with Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm struggling, but Beachy -- and an eight-game lead in the National League East -- should ease concerns. The Braves, who are fourth in the NL in runs this month, may get both B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer back for the stretch run.
The D-backs, Rangers, Dodgers, Reds and Yankees all have significant players closing in on a returns from injury. For instance, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers can focus strictly on upgrading his bullpen if starters Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy can, as expected, return in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Yanks believe they'll get Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter back in a lineup that already looks better after this week's acquisition of Alfonso Soriano. Despite everything that has happened to them, the Yankees are still just 2 1/2 games out of an AL Wild Card spot.
Other teams in the mix will be making less significant additions. The Dodgers will have their best player, outfielder Matt Kemp, back soon, but they're already leading the NL in runs this month.
And the Rangers, who acquired right-hander Matt Garza from the Cubs this week and got Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando back from the DL, likely will also soon be getting another boost in veteran Colby Lewis.
Texas still has holes in its lineup, and general manager Jon Daniels said there's very few "impactful" offensive players available. But the Rangers may have enough pitching to make the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
If the Reds get reliever Jonathan Broxton back in the next couple of weeks, that would be one less thing on general manager Walt Jocketty's to-do list.
There still could be a flurry of moves in the next few days. Peavy and Norris will be in high demand. White Sox outfielder Alex Rios is also being scouted by several teams. While there may not be the a Cliff Lee-type player changing teams, there'll be enough movement to give the pennant races a different look. But plenty of teams are set to get better anyway.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.