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MLB’s possible milestones for 2021

March 30, 2021
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Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera stands on the field with teammates during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Lakeland, Fla. Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera stands on the field with teammates during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Among the many secondary and tertiary benefits of a regular-length baseball season is the fact that fans might get more of a chance to see some historic accomplishments from players, numbers that place them among the best of their generation.

Baseball is a game that has always held its own history in high regard. And one of the best ways to keep track of that history has been through statistical milestones, numbers that have come to act as a sort of distillation of greatness. Round numbers that represent on-field brilliance in an easy-to-understand way.

Granted, changes in the game are in turn changing these milestones. The way the game is played and the meaning of the numbers being tallied isn’t what it once was; the sabermetric revolution has altered how we look at these statistics. Still, there’s something undeniably special about those iconic career marks. While their relevance may fade someday, we’re not there yet.

Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera is the guy whose 2021 looks to be the most impressive with regard to milestones achieved. The longtime Tigers first baseman is on the cusp of several of the aforementioned round numbers that serve as that shorthand criteria for greatness. Assuming he doesn’t get injured and his production manages to avoid dropping of a cliff (no guarantee – he’s turning 38 in less than a month), Cabrera is looking at some of the big ones. He’s got 487 homers, 13 shy of the 500 HR club (maybe not as prestigious as it used to be, but still a big deal). He’s 134 hits away from becoming the 33rd player in MLB history with 3,000 hits. He’s close to 1,500 runs scored (43 away) and 1,800 RBI (71), not to mention 2,500 games played (43 away).

That’s the culmination of a phenomenal career. Yes, Cabrera has been on the downswing for a while now; he’s obviously not the player that he once was. Time comes for all of us. That said, bet on Cabrera reaching all or at least most of these milestones – Detroit has nothing to play for, so they might as well let your icon take chase.

Albert Pujols

This is probably it for Albert Pujols … and it’s time. Probably a little past time, to be honest; Pujols hasn’t been great for the last few seasons, his massive contract and increasingly onerous weight on the Angels franchise. But we must never forget that for a decade, he was the best hitter many of us had ever seen, and even with his decline, he’s hit numbers that put him in rarified air. He’s already in the 600 HR club, moving by Willie Mays last season into fifth all-time, with little chance of catching Alex Rodriguez ahead of him; A-Rod’s got 696, 34 more than Pujols’s 662. He’s third all-time in RBI with 2,100 – 114 behind number two Babe Ruth. In truth, a vintage Pujols season – 35 HR, 125 RBI – gets him there, but those days are long gone.

However, he does have some interesting milestones ahead due to sheer longevity. He’s about to reach 6,000 total bases (77 away) and has a shot at 3,000 games played (138) and perhaps 1,400 extra base hits (53). Plus, with his first double play grounder of the season, Pujols will become the first player in MLB history to ground into 400 double plays.

Jon Lester

One of the weird things about how the role of the starting pitcher has changed in recent years is that our statistical measures of them hasn’t yet evolved to take that into account. The nature of the game means that certain milestones, once semi-regular occurrences, may not be reached as frequently or indeed at all.

That brings us to Lester, who will almost certainly reach 200 wins (he currently sits at 193) and 2,500 Ks (2,397) if he avoids injury and pitches at all effectively for the Nationals this season. Now, viewed through the lens of previous generations, those career numbers don’t impress as much. But in the context of today’s game, that’s a sterling run – he’s currently third and sixth among active players in wins and Ks, respectively – and we should probably shift the line.

Other milestones

On the offensive side of things, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto has a chance to hit some significant markers this season. He’s just 91 hits shy of 2,000 for his career, while he’s just 34 RBI away from 1,000 and five homers shy of 300. And while it feels a little early to be ticking boxes on Mike Trout’s resume, he’s coming up on 1,500 hits – he’s got 1,380 – and 1,000 runs (944) after reaching 300 HRs and 200 steals last season.

On the pitching side, the big one is Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who has a real shot at reaching the 3,000-strikeout mark with a good year in 2021. He’s at 2,786, leaving him 214 short – hardly a gimme, particularly this season, though considering Scherzer’s track record, you have to really like his odds. A couple of save thresholds are being reached as well, with active leader Craig Kimbrel of the Cubs just two shy of 350 and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman sitting 24 short of 300 with 276. Chapman would join Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen as the only active players in the club, becoming the 31st pitcher to reach the mark.

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 March 2021 18:19

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