Pujols, Trout among 2020 milestone contenders

June 25th, 2020

Last year, we saw CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander reach 3,000 career strikeouts and Albert Pujols surpass 2,000 RBIs, among various career milestones. One of the wonderful things about baseball is that there are always more milestones to look out for with each new season -- more career highlight reels to play, more baseballs headed to Cooperstown for display.

While the 60-game schedule this year limits the possibilities, there will still be big milestones worth counting down to in 2020 and beyond. Here is a look at those targets, along with a breakdown of each player's chances of getting there this year.

Albert Pujols: 5th all time in home runs, 2nd in RBIs

Pujols’ career has been legendary in many ways, and at this stage, he’s in a great position on a number of lists and set to continue moving up. He enters 2020 with 656 career homers, just four shy of tying Willie Mays for fifth most in history.

What comes with those homers? RBIs, plenty of them. Pujols has 2,075, putting him 11 shy of tying Alex Rodriguez for second most since the stat has been tracked. There’s some discrepancy with RBIs, which are only official since 1920, but Pujols’ official place is third, as noted previously.

All-time RBI leaders, per the Elias Sports Bureau

  1. Hank Aaron: 2,297
  2. Alex Rodriguez: 2,086
  3. Albert Pujols: 2,075
  4. Barry Bonds: 1,996
  5. Lou Gehrig: 1,994

Pujols also has 3,202 career hits, which currently places him 14th on the all-time list. There are three players ahead of him within 85 hits of his current spot: Nap Lajoie (3,252), Eddie Murray (3,255) and Mays (3,283).

Will it happen?

The home run milestone is likely for Pujols, who has averaged about eight per 60 team games over the past three seasons. Fourth place will have to wait, as Rodriguez (696) is 40 away from Pujols’ current spot.

Similarly, with RBIs, Pujols seems like a lock to move up at least one place this year. As for the top spot, that’ll have to wait another year or two: Hank Aaron’s all-time leading total of 2,297 won’t be touched in 2020.

Miguel Cabrera: 500 home runs, 3,000 hits

Cabrera hit 12 homers last year to raise his career total to 477, which would have put him within realistic reach of 500 this year, under normal circumstances. His impressive career already includes a Triple Crown, two MVP awards and 11 All-Star selections, not to mention a World Series title. But 500 homers would put him into even further rarefied air. Twenty-seven players have hit 500-plus homers, and Cabrera’s current .315 career batting average would rank fourth among that group, behind Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.

Cabrera is also likely to be the next player to reach 3,000 hits. He enters 2020 with 2,815, putting him 185 shy of becoming the 33rd player in Major League history to reach the mark.

Will it happen?

Cabrera has been limited by injuries in the past few seasons, so he hasn’t reached the 23-homer total he needs since he hit 38 in 2016. And even in his prime, he never went deep 23 times in the first 60 games of a season. So even if Cabrera stays healthy and turns back the clock a bit, this milestone is really a 2021 target.

Similarly, 185 hits would have been feasible over 162 games, with Cabrera reaching the mark as recently as 2016. The 60-game schedule pushes back that chase, but if Miggy performs well in '20, he could greatly improve his chances of reaching 3,000 by the end of '21.

Mike Trout: 300 home runs

Trout enters 2020 with 285 career homers. If he hits 15 more, he’d be just the 11th player to reach 300 by the end of his age-28 season. And remember, this is just another line on the accomplishments page for Trout, who already has more WAR than all but 56 position players ever.

Will it happen?

Since Trout’s first full season in the Majors in 2012, he’s hit at least 27 homers -- his uniform number! -- every time, even in the seasons where he was limited by injury. The question here is probably not will he get there, but how quickly can he do it? His fewest games played to 15 homers in a season is 42, in 2017. He’s gotten there in fewer than 60 games in four of the past five seasons.

It’s also worth noting the other players within striking distance of 300 this year, though Trout is considerably younger than the others in this group. Justin Upton (298), Evan Longoria (297) and Chris Davis (295) are right on the cusp, while Joey Votto (284) and Matt Kemp (281) would need significant rebounds in a short season.

Max Scherzer: 3,000 strikeouts

Last year, Justin Verlander reached 3,000 career strikeouts, and in 2020, he’ll continue to climb the all-time list. If JV's 2019 strikeout rate holds, he could certainly pass John Smoltz (3,084) and Sabathia (3,093) for 16th, with Curt Schilling (3,116) and Bob Gibson (3,117) looming as outside possibilities.

Verlander's former Tigers teammate, Scherzer enters the year 24th on the all-time strikeout list, with 2,692. That puts him within striking distance of 2,700 in his first start of the year, which would be his 366th career game. Such a feat would make him the third pitcher to record that many K's in such a short span. The only pitchers with more through 366 games are Randy Johnson (3,040) and Nolan Ryan (2,719).

Will it happen?

Scherzer will certainly reach 2,700 this year, barring injury. Beyond that, there’s Frank Tanana currently in 23rd on the list, with 2,773 strikeouts, which also seems within reach. He’d need 111 to tie Cy Young for 22nd and 121 to reach Hall of Famer Mike Mussina’s spot ahead of that. The 3,000 mark would have been at least a faint possibility in a normal season -- Scherzer struck out 300 in 2018 -- but the 60-game schedule means that will be a 2021 chase.

Clayton Kershaw: 2,500 strikeouts and beyond

Kershaw will enter the year with 2,464 career strikeouts, putting him just 36 shy of 2,500 for his career. Last season, Kershaw passed Sandy Koufax’s 2,396 strikeouts for third most in Dodgers history. En route to 2,500, Kershaw would pass Don Drysdale’s 2,486 and move into second place all time in franchise history. The top spot is held by Don Sutton, who had 2,696 in Dodger blue.

Just 10 lefties in Major League history have amassed 2,500 strikeouts, a list most recently joined by Cole Hamels last year. Jon Lester also could follow Kershaw to that milestone, as he enters the season with 2,355.

Will it happen?

As long as he’s healthy, Kershaw seems like a lock to get to 2,500. And though it won’t happen this year, he’ll surpass Sutton’s 2,696 soon, too. He needs 232 to tie him -- a figure that will be beyond his reach this season but could happen by the first half in 2021.

Yadier Molina: 2,000 games caught

Molina had two separate injured list stints in 2019 due to a tendon strain in his right thumb, but he still managed to maintain his reliability behind the plate. Every game he started last season was at catcher, and at this point, it feels like every game behind the plate simply adds to the 37-year-old’s legacy. He enters 2020 with 1,947 career games caught, four away from passing Tony Peña for sixth most.

Will it happen?

Barring injury, Molina will certainly pass Peña. As for the round number, catching 53 of 60 games is akin to catching about 143 games in a 162-game schedule. Molina has reached that mark just once in his career, when he caught 146 games in 2016. If Molina doesn't reach 2,000 in 2020, it's worth noting that his contract expires at the end of the season, though he’s said he thinks he has at least two years left -- and that he wants to be a Cardinal for life. Continuing in 2021 would raise the possibility of passing Jason Kendall (2,025) and Gary Carter (2,056) for fourth all time.

Aroldis Chapman: 300 saves

Chapman had 37 saves in 2019, one shy of tying his career high from both 2012 and 2013. He enters 2020 27 saves shy of becoming the 31st pitcher with at least 300. His 273 saves are third most among active pitchers behind Craig Kimbrel (346) and Kenley Jansen (301).

Will it happen?

Twenty-seven saves seem a bit lofty for 2020, as that’d be almost half of the Yankees’ games. In fact, the record in a team's first 60 games is 26, shared by former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (2004). But Chapman could easily record 10-15 saves this season, and then enter 2021 needing fewer than 15 for the milestone.

Jon Lester: 200 wins

Lester has won at least 10 games in every season since 2008 except for '12, when he had nine wins. Add in the 11 he totaled from '06-07, and he’s at 190 career wins entering 2020. He’d be the 119th pitcher to reach the 200 mark.

Will it happen?

Even if Lester starts every five days -- far from a sure thing -- that would mean only 12 outings in 2020. Winning 10 of those would be awfully difficult, so this milestone will probably have to wait at least a year. That being said, he’ll add to his total and likely be very close come 2021. He’s entering the final guaranteed year of his contract with the Cubs, with a '21 team option on the table, so it remains to be seen what uniform he might be wearing when he reaches 200 wins.