One of the greatest underappreciated truths of wild card era baseball is that losers turn into playoff teams every year. In the 15 years since baseball split into six divisions and allowed eight playoff entries, every postseason but one included at least one team that had a losing record the previous season. Thirty teams -- fully one-quarter of all playoff teams from 1995-2009 -- made the immediate turnaround from a losing record to the postseason. Why should this year be any different? Who will it be?
One-third of the way through this season, we have five teams that have emerged as the most likely of the latest surprise playoff teams: the Padres, Reds, Mets, Blue Jays and Athletics. They are the only teams with a winning record this year that had a losing record last year.
Now is a good time to start separating contenders (welcome back, Cincinnati) from pretenders (nice knowing you, Seattle and Milwaukee). Hall of Fame manager
One-third of the way in, the first-place Padres rate as the biggest surprise of all. They are tied for the most wins in the league. Still, does a team with the fifth-worst offense in the league have enough bats to be a playoff team?
"I think we have enough here," manager
The Padres are a handful even if they get middle-of-the-pack hitting. Their pitching is that good. One potential trap door, however, is the development of 22-year-old right-hander
So will the Padres take this year's role of Cinderella? We have two-thirds of the season to see if the shoe fits. In the meantime, here are the best turnaround teams and their prospects for the playoffs, ranked in order of their likelihood to be playing in October.
Most ominous of all is the schedule. Toronto has capitalized on a soft early schedule. The Jays are 18-7 against losing teams, including 10-1 against the three last-place AL teams, Baltimore, Cleveland and Seattle. They have a losing record (15-19) against winning teams. Their reckoning begins August 2, when they hit a killer portion of their schedule just as their young pitching is entering a danger zone. Starting that date, they play 35 of their next 38 games against teams that have winning records: the Rays (9 times), Yankees (9), Red Sox (6), Angels (3), Tigers (4) and Rangers (4).
The Athletics have been outscored and been fortunate in one-run games (11-4), giving them the look of team with little margin of error if they hope to hang in there. Actually, their chances depend on whether the Rangers or Angels get hot. They need a slow-speed division race -- one in which 85-87 wins are enough to capture the AL West.