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Apparently Raul Ibanez's stunningly excellent start seems too excellent to a blogging bloke or two (more on that later). Yet the Phillies import is far from the only player putting up extraordinary numbers. Here's my list of the season's top 25 out-sized performances to date, and please know I'm casting no aspersions.
2. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays 2B. The other half of Toronto's DP combo has put together an All-Star quality start, hitting his way to 14 home runs, 43 RBIs and a .308 average.
3. Russell Branyan, Mariners 1B. Go figure: As soon as the career journeyman arrives at the worst hitting ballpark in the game, he finally starts emerging as a significant player. The 33-year-old has blasted 13 home runs and maintained a .314 batting average.
4. Mark DiFilice, Brewers RP. Heading into the season, pitching four shutout innings for Italy vs. Venezuela in the WBC probably ranked as DiFilece's biggest career highlight. No longer. The 32-year-old journeyman has gone 3-0 with a 1.14 ERA out of the Brewers' bullpen.
5. Jason Bartlett, Rays SS. The supposed defensive specialist was batting .373 (and slugging .596) with seven home runs and 30 RBIs before going on the disabled list.
6. Ron Villone, Nationals RP. A Mets castoff this spring, Villone's gone 3-1 with a 0.53 ERA for an otherwise putrid Nationals pen.
7. Edwin Jackson, Tigers SP. Getting a starter for backup outfielder Matt Joyce was a great pickup for Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. Jackson's been strong -- he hit 99 on the gun in the ninth inning of a recent start -- though pitching in Comerica Park probably hasn't hurt.
8. Andrew Bailey, A's RP. He's been a stud in the A's bullpen, with a 4-1 record and 2.58 ERA.
9. Ibanez, Phillies OF. This guy became a star in the American League by putting together big seasons while playing in the cavernous Safeco Field. Still, the numbers he's putting up in Philly are pretty stunning and he's turned into a superstar at age 37. But I'm not suspicious. As the accusatory blogger pointed out while trying to spark an intellectual discussion about whether Ibanez was cheating (he tired, but missed the mark because he speculated for 1,000 words without providing a shred of real evidence), Ibanez is playing in a much more friendly park for hitters.
Some may point out I've written I wouldn't vote for Sammy Sosa for the Hall of Fame despite a lack of hard evidence he took steroids, but this Ibanez controversy isn't about the Hall of Fame, and there is no reason to suspect Ibanez beyond his out-sized performance. Sosa had the corked bat, the lack of English at an opportune time and a ridiculous homer total smack in the steroid era.
10. Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs OF. After last season's Division Series, Lou Piniella sounded like he never wanted to see Fukudome again. But given Fukudome's contract, Piniella had no choice. Thanks to Fukudome's 5/22/.294 line, things seem to be working out better this year.
11. Scott Feldman, Rangers SP. It's been quite a nice year for the Rangers, and Feldman's contributed to their success by going 5-1 with a 4.01 ERA as a starter in a hitters' park.
12. Johnny Damon, Yankees OF. Despite nearly retiring in the spring of 2008, Damon's having one of his best years and talking about returning. His 13 home runs are shocking (though new Yankee Stadium may deserve some of the credit) and are also well-timed (he had money invested in the Stanford fiasco).
13. Rick Porcello, Tigers SP. Porcello has tremendous talent, but starting 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA at age 20 is simply amazing.
14. Livan Hernandez, Mets SP. His brother was a bust as a Met, but he's been a Godsend so far with a 5-1 record and 3.88 ERA. He appears to be in shape, too.
15. Ben Zobrist, Rays 2B. Zobrist has transformed himself from a utility man -- he has played six different positions for the Rays -- into a bat Joe Maddon must fit into the lineup every day. Hitting .316, Zobrist has 12 homers in 151 at-bats and owns a team-high 1.108 OPS.
16. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals OF. Most thought the top prospect should have made the team last spring. This spring he was pretty terrible, but has turned it around and is performing well (7 HRs, 23 RBIs, .269). Go figure.
17. Matt Cain, Giants SP. The heartbreak kid has figured out how to win. He's 8-1 with a 2.55 ERA. Teams would be lining up if the Giants dared to put him on the block.
18. Adam Lind, Blue Jays DH. Yet another Blue Jay makes the list. Lind was always well-regarded, so his big numbers (12, 45, .315) may not shock everyone.
19. Ramon Trancoso, Dodgers RP. Where did this guy come from? After pitching 39 1/3 innings in Joe Torre's bullpen, he still boasts a .160 ERA.
20. Joe Mauer, Twins C. Nobody's surprised that he's playing great. But this great? Maure's hitting .410 with a 1.239 OPS since returning from a back injury.
21. Jason Marquis, Rockies SP. He's been one of the bigger winners in the NL in recent years, so his 8-4 record can't be considered such a surprise. But couple that with a 3.98 ERA while pitching home games in Coors Field, and it's pretty impressive.
22. Michael Bourn, Astros OF. He didn't look like much of a hitter last year, but if he keeps batting around .300 he'll always have a place to play, especially with that type of speed.
23. Kiko Calero, Marlins RP. Calero has struck out 38 batters in just 29 innings. The Marlins seem to produce one of these relievers every year.
24. Darren O'Day, Rangers RP. Another Mets relief reject, he's been huge for Texas (2-0, 0.98). He wasn't himself early on with the Mets, as he was dealing with the death of friend Nick Adenhart.
25. Jered Weaver, Angels SP. Adenhart's best friend in baseball has dedicated this season to his fallen buddy. It's been a pretty good tribute so far (6-2, 2.31).
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