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.
1. Marco Scutaro, Blue Jays SS. This longtime utilityman is tied for second in the American League with 47 runs scored. Who'd a thought?
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).
And here are 25 more surprises, this time of the opposite kind.
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox DH. Boston people remain worried despite Ortiz's improved hitting of late. And judging by his recent dugout fits, Ortiz remains worried, too.
2. Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees SP. Wang's ERA is the highest in history after five starts. "It appears he's lost his sink," one scout said. Overall, Wang's 0-4 with a 14.34 ERA.
3. Garrett Atkins, Rockies 3B. As trade bait, he's a total bust.
4. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins SP. Who'd have thought he'd be among the pitchers sent to the minors this year? Certainly not me (I put him on my spring up-and-comers list -- big mistake). His 2-6 record and 8.17 ERA are only good by Wang standards.
5. Howie Kendrick, Angels 2B. What happened to that batting title he was supposed to win? At .236, he had better hustle.
6. Ollie Perez, Mets SP. Turns out he was hurt. There had to be some explanation for that 9.97 ERA.
7. Chris Young, Diamondbacks OF. Young's emblematic of the offensive fade crushing the entire team.
8. Jeff Francoeur, Braves OF. The former budding superstar has hit just four home runs and managed a paltry .240 batting average.
9. Scott Kazmir, Rays SP. The stud lefty tried to pitch through pain. As his 7.69 ERA proves, it didn't work.
10. Geovany Soto, Cubs C. The 2008 NL Rookie of the Year has been one of the many disappointments in the Cubs' lineup (3, 15, .219)
11. John Lackey, Angels SP. The staff ace has been a mess in his walk year, posting a 6.61 ERA.
12. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies SS. All the Rockies are playing better this week, but Tulowitzki has been average (at best) since signing a long-term deal.
13. B.J. Upton, Rays OF. Upton looked like a future star in the playoffs last year, but he's batting just .216 with three homers.
14. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies SS. Still a great presence on an excellent Phillies team, but his .225 average isn't cutting it.
15. Manny Parra, Brewers SP. Some think he's as talented as Yovani Gallardo. His 3-7 record and 6.86 ERA indicate otherwise.
16. Pat Burrell, Rays DH. Now that he's back off the D.L. he's got to do better than the .315 slugging percentage he'd managed through his first108 at-bats.
17. Vernon Wells, Jays OF. Another blah season for the man with the $126-million contract.
18. Placido Polanco, Tigers 2B. Polanco's one of the better average hitters in baseball, which makes his.249 average even more glaring.
19. Andy Sonnanstine, Rays SP. Perhaps the Rays should have traded Sonnanstine and kept Jackson.
20. Dan Uggla, Marlins 2B. Uggla hasn't been the same since his all-time game in last year's All-Star Game.
21. Chris Davis, Rangers 1B. With 88 strikeouts and a .202 batting average, Davis has done a good job fanning the assembled in a warm environment, if nothing else. At least he's playing a solid first base.
22. Francisco Liriano, Twins SP. A promising career seems derailed. A shame.
23. J.J. Hardy, Brewers SS. Things turned when he started hitting into bad luck. During his current 6-for-47 slump, he's just been bad.
24. Jay Bruce, Reds OF. He has power (15 home runs) but he's only hitting .217. Time to halt the hype and Ken Griffey Jr. comparisons.
25. Grady Sizemore, Indians OF. Sure, he was hurt. But before going on the D.L., he just hurt the Indians.
• The Phillies, Mets and Cardinals are supposedly among the teams in on the Brad Penny trade talks. But the Phillies are aiming higher, Mets GM Omar Minaya said he feels comfortable wit his rotation (though that was two days before John Maine went to the disabled list with a shoulder issue) and the Cardinals may need to target a third baseman instead of a pitcher. In any case, the Red Sox want to make room for John Smoltz and are allowed to trade Penny after June 15.
• Some third-base possibilities for the Cards could include Miguel Tejada, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa and Melvin Mora.
• Following the trade of popular star Nate McLouth to the Braves, Pirates GM Neal Huntington sent a letter of explanation to fans. But according to scouts, he should really be apologizing for selecting Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez with the fourth pick overall in this week's draft. Sanchez is a solid player and good "catch and throw guy'' but most scouts agree he's not a top five pick. Perhaps the Pirates were traumatized by their soap opera-esque signing of Pedro Alvarez last year.
• And by the way, Adam LaRoche, who makes $8 million and is hitting .244, should pipe down. Some of these guys need to find a mirror.
• It sounds like Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick by Seattle and the best college hitter in the draft, will seek "Mark Teixeira money,'' which means $9.5 million. The Mariners had a very nice draft, according to observers.
• Jiovanni Mier, the Astros' first pick, publicly revealed a Houston scout told him they were going to get rid of Tejada. Of course, that's true, but it's probably not something a scout should be discussing with Mier. But I like Mier already as a future quote machine.
• Scouts say the Yankees' first choice, Texas high school outfielder Slade Heathcott, has a big upside. However, he'll have to overcome a hardscrabble background. His dad's in jail on a drug charge, his mom isn't in the picture and he's missed playing time due to academic failings.
• Alex Rodriguez, who's batting .231, is telling friends he still feels like this is the end of spring training for him.
• Word is there's some trade talk going on involving Lastings Milledge. So if he goes, he'll have two organizations he can rip.
• Ozzie Guillen is right that the White Sox need offense, and Josh Fields wasn't providing them enough of it. Gordon Beckham isn't hitting any better than Fields thus far, but he's an early sensation in terms of fan support.