This spring Toronto Blue Jays general manager
The sun shone brightly on Ricciardi that morning, but even he couldn't have guessed it would keep shining on him and his team right through the start of the season. After one week of play the Blue Jays, one of only four teams yet to make the postseason in the wild-card era, boast the best record in the American League and sit atop a division that contains arguably the three best teams in baseball: the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.
If the Blue Jays were the only surprise team thus far, it would be easy to ignore them. But one week into the new season baseball has gone bizarro. Again. While the Tampa Bay Rays' stunning turnaround dominated the 2008 season, 2009 is already dropping hints that another unlikely playoff participant could be in the offing.
It's far too soon to draw any significant parallels to last season, but if we can't glance at the top of the standings and deduce which teams will bring their fans a championship in October, we can at least figure out which teams have found a way to give those fans reason to keep watching, at least for a little while longer.
Only one of last year's six division winners -- the Rays, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Cubs and Dodgers -- has started '09 the way it finished '08 -- which is to say, in first. (The White Sox entered Tuesday tied for the AL Central lead with the Royals.) The other five have been usurped by six teams -- the Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Braves, Cardinals and Padres (Florida and Atlanta are tied in the NL East) -- that finished a combined 110 games out of first a year ago. Only one current division leader (the Marlins) finished higher than fourth, while three teams finished last, including the 101-loss Mariners and the 99-loss Padres. By comparison, at this time last year, two defending division champions (the Angels and Diamondbacks) were in first place and two first-place teams (the Angels and White Sox) would go on to win their respective divisions.
Here's a quick look at those seven surprise clubs, and why they've managed to get off to such a quick start.