No baseball season is complete without the celebration of a good milestone or two, and we've had plenty of memorable moments in recent years, from the 3,000th hits of Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre to Albert Pujols' 600th homer.
The 2019 campaign should be no different, because a handful of the biggest stars in the game are primed to make major moves up baseball's all-time lists. Here are the biggest milestones worth counting down to, along with a breakdown of each player's chances of getting there this year.
Sabathia is on the cusp of 3,000 strikeouts, and as we explained in February, that’s a bigger deal than you might think. Only 16 pitchers have notched 3,000 punchouts, fewer members than the 3,000-hit club, the 500-homer club and the 300-win club. Every pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame except current ballot candidates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.
The Yankees left-hander needs just 14 strikeouts to join that group, and he reached that total in his fifth start last year. That means he might receive his ovation before May. Don’t sleep on Verlander either; he’s 294 strikeouts shy of 3,000 and punched out a career-high 290 in 2018.
Will it happen?: As noted, Sabathia is a virtual lock to reach this milestone early in the season. As for Verlander, he's a longshot considering that his previous best year before 2018 was 269 K's in 2009. That said, strikeout rates keep rising, so don't count him out for joining this club in 2019. And if he doesn't do it this year, he should make it there in 2020.
Albert Pujols: 2,000 RBIs and more
Pujols is at the doorstep of 2,000 RBIs, a figure only two players have reached since the RBI became an official stat in 1920. "Prince Albert" is just 18 shy of that mark and figures to get there -- passing three guys named Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds along the way -- sometime before June.
But there are plenty of other categories where Pujols could pass some legends. The Angels slugger has racked up 5,652 total bases, putting him 100 shy of Pete Rose for eighth all-time and 141 shy of Ruth for seventh. Pujols compiled 191 total bases over 117 games last season, so there’s a fair chance he could pass both this year with health and playing time.
An even better measure of Pujols’ greatness might be overall bases, a hypothetical metric devised last summer by MLB.com’s Mike Petriello that adds walks, hit by pitches and times reached via error to paint a more comprehensive picture. Pujols enters this year 13th by that measure with 7,146, and seems a reasonable bet to pass Frank Robinson and Ty Cobb -- and perhaps even Alex Rodriguez at 7,456 -- on the all-time list by season’s end.
For the traditionalists: Pujols is 24th in hits (3,082) with a reasonable chance to climb past legends like Ichiro Suzuki (3,089), Tony Gwynn (3,141), Robin Yount (3,142), George Brett (3,154) and Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) this year. He’s also 10th in doubles with 639 and could jump Honus Wagner (643), Carl Yastrzemski (646) and Nap Lajoie (657) with as few as 20 two-baggers. And of course, there’s Pujols’ 633 home runs, 27 shy of the great Willie Mays for fifth all-time.
Will it happen? As with Sabathia and 3,000 K's, Pujols is certain to get to 2,000 RBIs. And he'll continue to march up various leaderboards, though Shohei Ohtani's health could affect his playing time. If Ohtani is able to regularly serve as DH after coming back from Tommy John surgery, that could cut into Pujols' playing time as he might not be able to handle the grind of playing first base almost every game.
Miguel Cabrera: 500 home runs
Cabrera’s four batting titles, two American League MVP Awards and a Triple Crown are probably enough to already get him into Cooperstown as soon as he’s eligible, but a 500th home run would be icing on the cake. The Tigers slugger stands 35 dingers short of the milestone, which might be a bit ambitious for this season considering he missed most of 2018 with a hamstring strain and a torn biceps. He was MLB’s hardest hitter before going on the injured list, however, and you never want to count Cabrera out. His current .315 career average would rank fourth among 500-homer hitters behind Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.
Will it happen? Cabrera last surpassed 35 homers in 2016, when he mashed 38, but before that he hadn't surpassed the 35-homer plateau since 2013, when he had 44 dingers en route to that second MVP. In other words, it's unlikely he'll get to 500 this year, but he should get there.
Clayton Kershaw: Passing Koufax in K's
Kershaw, like Cabrera, doesn’t need much boosting to his Hall of Fame resume. But passing the icon he’s been compared to so often wouldn’t hurt. Kershaw enters his 12th season in Dodgers blue with 2,275 strikeouts, leaving him just 121 punchouts behind the great Sandy Koufax for third on the franchise’s all-time list. If Kershaw is healthy, that seems like an attainable goal. If he really returns to the Kershaw of old, Don Drysdale’s 2,486 strikeouts could come into view as well.
Will it Happen: While Kershaw's recent health woes could delay the inevitable, it is likely he will pass Koufax this year. He needs 213 to pass Drysdale, however, and that's a mark he hasn't surpassed since 2015. And in case you are wondering, the club's all-time strikeouts leader is Don Sutton with 2,696 whiffs while wearing Dodgers blue.
Robinson Canó: 2,500 hits
Mets fans should have an early reason to stand and applaud their new second baseman: Cano enters this year just 30 hits shy of 2,500. He would become the sixth Dominican native to reach that threshold, following in the footsteps of Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Beltre, Vladimir Guerrero and Julio Franco. Could Cano reach 3,000 hits? He’d need to average 106 per season before his contract runs out in 2023, a very feasible goal.
Will it happen? He could get to 2,500 by May, and given his career consistency, 3,000 hits seems pretty likely as well.
Yadier Molina: Games caught leaderboard
The heartbeat of the Cardinals has been an outlier in terms of workload. Seemingly every other club (besides the Royals with Salvador Perez) has reduced catchers' playing time in recent years. All that squatting is going to start paying off for Molina’s legacy, beginning with the all-time games caught list. St. Louis’ backstop enters 2019 having logged 1,836 games behind the plate, meaning he could pass Benito Santiago, Al Lopez, Jim Sundberg and Brad Ausmus and move up to seventh all-time with as few as 103 games back there this year.
Matt Wieters, if he makes the Cardinals’ roster, would represent the most proven backup Molina has had in recent memory, but Molina would also pass Tony Pena (1,950 games) for sixth if he matches the 121 contests he caught in 2018.
Will it happen? Molina will almost certainly enter the top 10 in games caught this year. The question would then become if he can pass Ivan Rodriguez (2,427) for No. 1 on the all-time list. That's a difference of 588 games, which means he'd need to average almost 100 games caught for six more seasons to get there. It's possible, but perhaps unlikely. Carlton Fisk, who is second on the list at 2,226, seems like a more realistic target.
Bruce Bochy: Wins leaderboard
With three World Series titles in tow, Bochy already seems like a lock for Cooperstown. He could pad his portfolio even further by moving into the top 10 on the all-time managerial wins list, and this one could come down to the wire. Bochy begins his final season 82 wins behind another Giants skipper, Leo Durocher, for 10th and the Giants are coming off back-to-back sub-.500 campaigns. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system and Fangraphs both have the same projection for San Francisco: 73 wins and a last-place finish in the NL West. So Bochy will need to surprise some people for this final career milestone.
Will it happen? It's not unreasonable to expect big bounce-backs from Giants veterans Buster Posey and Evan Longoria, to name a few, and that might be enough to get them above .500.