The 2009 All-Unexpected Team (cont.)
It would be easy to pick Zobrist's double-play partner Jason Bartlett. After all, who anticipated a .276 career hitter morphing into Ichiro Suzuki? But Bartlett has been a starting shortstop for a while. Scutaro has been mostly a utility player who has transformed into a starter with more runs (62) and more walks (56) than any Yankee.
THIRD BASE: Brandon Inge, Tigers
He was a .205 hitter last year trapped between being a catcher and a third baseman. This season, liberated from the tools of ignorance, Inge has 19 homers. His .267 average might not sound staggering, but at .223 he had the fourth-worst average in the majors over the 2007-08 seasons (minimum 750 plate appearances).
LEFT FIELD: Raul Ibanez, Phillies
This falls into the "we knew he was good, but not this good" category. He has been so good, in fact, that he recently got the ultimate backhanded compliment, speculation that this had to be chemical rather than natural. At a time when teams were being both conservative with dollars and cautious in signing older players, Philadelphia gave $30 million over three years to a player who would turn 37 in June. He has not played since June 17 (strained left groin) and yet his 22 homers are still fifth in the majors.
CENTER FIELD: Juan Pierre, Dodgers
Technically Pierre did his best work in left, but he still has played about 10 times more games in center in his career. In the 50 games that Manny Ramirez was suspended, Pierre went from overpaid fourth outfielder to essential, helping to keep the Dodgers at a high level during the absence of their No. 3 hitter. In those 50 games, Pierre hit .318 with a .381 on-base percentage and 21 steals.
RIGHT FIELD: Nelson Cruz, Rangers
Before this season Cruz had 22 homers and six steals in parts of four seasons. The wonder was whether he was just a minor league monster who would never have the consistency to hit in the majors. But given a full-time opportunity in a home stadium that enhances his power, Cruz is tied with Jermaine Dye for the most homers (20) by a right fielder and trails only Bobby Abreu and Ichiro Suzuki for most steals (13) by a right fielder.
STARTING PITCHER: Jason Marquis, Rockies
There are some interesting choices here, including Houston's Wandy Rodriguez and Seattle's Jarrod Washburn. But the pick is Marquis, who is leading the majors in wins (11) after being traded to Colorado as a salary dump by the Cubs. That means he already has won 11 or more games for a sixth straight season. An opponent recently said, "I don't know what has gotten into Marquis but his ball is diving more than ever before to both sides of the plate."
He has 12 quality starts -- the same amount as Johan Santana and Matt Cain -- and has been central to the Rockies' from-the-dead run into playoff contention. He is also the rare player who is not overwhelmed by Coors Field. He has started there 12 times in his career and is 8-2 with a 3.31 ERA.
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