8 interesting stat races to watch

Get ready for the most -- and least -- important races down the stretch

September 14th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

It's the final weeks of the season, the home stretch, the grand finale. Postseason races are heating up, cellar-dwelling teams are looking to cause some chaos and, of course, there are statistical milestones to reach and personal achievements to accomplish. Some are meaningful -- Max Scherzer's 3,000th strikeout for one -- and some are decidedly not.

But that's what makes baseball great -- there's always something to care about, even when it's remarkably silly. Here are the eight statistical chases to keep an eye on down the stretch. We'll go from the most important to the most esoteric.

All stats through Sept. 13's games

1. Can Vlad Guerrero Jr. win the Triple Crown?

I don't know about you, but when I was 22, the only record I was approaching was "most IKEA furniture in one living space." And yet Guerrero, in just his third big league season, has a chance of doing something that's been done five times since 1947: He could win the Triple Crown.

The slugger leads the American League in batting average at .318, leads the Major Leagues in home runs with 45, and is just four RBIs back of leader José Abreu. History is against Guerrero, but with Vlad hitting .364 so far this month and with the entire Blue Jays offense transforming into an unstoppable juggernaut, anything can happen.

2. The Home Run Crown

Contenders: Vlad Guerrero Jr. (45), Shohei Ohtani (44), Salvador Perez (42)

For Guerrero to win the Triple Crown, he'll need to win the home run title -- but Ohtani is doing his best to make sure that doesn't happen. Ohtani's 44 home runs are already plenty unexpected -- never in the history of the sport has a player hit this many home runs while also throwing over 100 innings. Babe Ruth topped out at 29 homers while doing the same.

Perez is staying in the conversation, too. He's already hit the most home runs for a catcher since Javy López hit 43 in 2003, and if Perez does win the title, it would be the first time a catcher led the league in home runs since Johnny Bench accomplished the feat in 1972.

Fernando Tatis Jr. currently leads the National League with 38 home runs, but you probably won't guess who is second with 34: Braves left fielder Adam Duvall. The 33-year-old outfielder spent much of the 2019 season in Triple-A and signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Marlins over the offseason before being traded back to Atlanta in July. He'll probably do a little better on the free-agent market this time around.

3. The MLB RBI Title

Contenders: José Abreu (107), Salvador Perez (105), Vlad Guerrero Jr. (103)

RBIs may not have the same importance as they once did, but ask a player how they feel about topping 100 RBIs and you'd quickly realize how much weight they still hold. Abreu, the American League's reigning MVP, is also looking to become the first player in 30 years to lead the AL in RBIs three seasons in a row. The last player to pull that off? Cecil Fielder, from 1990-92.

Perhaps most impressive is how close Perez is to the top. All the other contenders are playing for teams who are among the Major League leaders in runs. The Royals rank 24th, with Perez driving in over 17 percent of the team's runs.

4. The Stolen Base Race

Contenders: Starling Marte (45), Whit Merrifield (40)

The A's outfielder has been on an absolute tear. Since joining Oakland, Marte has hit .345 and has been a perfect 23-for-23 on the basepaths in just 39 games. With Oakland apparently giving him the green light all the time, it will be tough for Merrifield to catch up. Should Marte steal five more bags in the final weeks, he'll also be the first player to reach 50 steals in a season since Dee Strange-Gordon stole 60 in 2017.

If he keeps picking his spots, he also has a chance to put together the highest stolen base success rate in big league history.

While Ohtani can't win the stolen base crown, we still have to note this: If he hits just one more home run and steals two more bags he could become just the sixth player to reach the 45-25 club. While not nearly as sexy to say as "30-30," it's arguably more impressive, especially when you remember that Ohtani is pitching every fifth day, too.

5. Can Miggy reach 3,000?

It didn't seem possible. At the start of the month, Miguel Cabrera was still 39 hits away from 3,000. That's something he hasn't pulled off in a single month since September 2014. But then the future Hall of Famer got red hot, seemingly sensing how close he was to the mark. From Sept. 7-12, Cabrera rattled off 11 hits, including picking up base knocks in nine consecutive plate appearances.

The Tigers have 18 more games to play and Miggy still needs 25 more hits. That would suggest that Cabrera will most likely reach 3,000 sometime early next year, but given how hot he's been the last week, anything is possible.

6. Max Scherzer, the Unhittable

Batters can't touch Scherzer. The right-hander currently holds the ERA lead, just picked up his 3,000th career strikeout and tied Chris Sale and Sandy Koufax's record for the most immaculate innings with three. On the mound, he's unhittable. But at the plate? Scherzer's unable to hit.

This year, Scherzer has gone 0-for-52 (compare that to 2019, when Scherzer went 10-for-55.) He hasn't drawn a single walk. His batting average and on-base percentage are both a perfectly round .000. That has him third all-time for most at-bats in a season without a single hit, behind only Bob Buhl (70 AB) and Bill Wight (61 AB) for the most all-time. But those pitchers also drew walks, meaning they didn't have a completely empty batting line.

As long as Scherzer goes hitless and walkless for the rest of the season, he'll have the record all to himself. If he does get on base, then the record goes back to Wei-Yin Chen, who was 0-for-44 with zero walks with the Marlins in 2016.

7. Just how many batters will Austin Adams hit?

The Padres pitcher has hit 23 batters this year -- seven more than second-place Joe Musgrove. It's also the most hit batsmen in a season since Jack Warhop hit 26 batters in 1909. The wildest part? Warhop threw 243 1/3 innings, while Adams -- a reliever -- has tossed just 48 2/3. He's hit nearly as many batters as Corbin Burnes has walked (29!). Out of all the wild stories in this wild season, this one is probably the most bizarre.

8. Corbin 2 Corbin

OK, so this one won't be legitimately recognized, but it's definitely worth watching. The Brewers' Corbin Burnes -- who is fresh off a combined no-hitter in his most recent start -- is second in the Major Leagues with a 2.25 ERA, just .08 behind the leader Scherzer. Meanwhile, Patrick Corbin is last in the Majors among qualified starters with a 5.98 ERA.

With only five Corbins in Major League history, this would be the first time that a Corbin both led the league and was last in the league in any statistical category.

Yes, talk about exciting.