MLB Milestones, Records That Could Be Achieved Down the Stretch in 2016

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistAugust 20, 2016

MLB Milestones, Records That Could Be Achieved Down the Stretch in 2016

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    Zach Britton can set MLB records out of the bullpen this season.
    Zach Britton can set MLB records out of the bullpen this season.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Alex Rodriguez left a monumental milestone on the table when he and the New York Yankees agreed to part ways.

    The polarizing star ended his Yankees tenure with 696 career home runs. While he wasn't going to pass Babe Ruth for third on the all-time leaderboard in 2016, he could have joined the Bambino, Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds in the exclusive 700 club.

    Whether by coincidence or design, the Yankees pulled the plug before that could happen.

    He may return with another team to chase an illustrious mark next year, but his spokesman ruled out Rodriguez playing again this summer. That accolade is on hold, but there are other moments to watch over the season's final weeks.

    Let's look at some milestones and records players and teams can earn down the stretch. 

Recently Achieved/Honorable Mentions

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    The injured Matt Holliday could collect his 2,000th career hit if he returns this season.
    The injured Matt Holliday could collect his 2,000th career hit if he returns this season.Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Accomplished Milestones

    Edwin Encarnacion: 300 Home Runs

    A late bloomer, Edwin Encarnacion didn't hit his stride until 2012. Although he has since blasted 185 home runs, one shy of MLB's lead behind Chris Davis, he'd need to rake deep into his 30s to broach a major mark.

    Nevertheless, the star slugger belted his 300th home run on August 12, and he has since added two more to his tally. Now one of the game's most consistent power hitters, the 33-year-old warrants a massive payday this offseason.

    Jose Altuve: 1,000 Career Hits

    Twelve years from now, we might be counting down to Jose Altuve's 3,000 hit.

    On Tuesday, the Houston Astros second baseman became the fastest player in franchise history to record 1,000 career hits. The 26-year-old hit quadruple digits in fewer games (786) than MLB all-time hit leader Pete Rose (831).

    At the rate he's going, he'll have 2,000 in his sights in his early 30s. Batting .365 with 175 hits in 121 games, he'll have no trouble securing his third consecutive 200-hit campaign. (And perhaps his first MVP trophy.)

    Honorable Mentions

    Matt Holliday: 2,000 Career Hits

    It's questionable whether Matt Holliday will get an opportunity to reach 2,000 career hits this season. Although he's only seven away, the veteran outfielder recently went on the disabled list with a fractured thumb.

    Leaving the door open, the 36-year-old decided to have surgery to receive a better chance of returning this season. It's unlikely he cares about knocking off the milestone, but the St. Louis Cardinals hold a narrow lead in an intense National League wild-card race.

    Chris Archer: Highest Strikeout Rate from 20-Game Loser

    As the old guard mourns the demise of 20-game winners, its less desirable counterpart has quietly gone extinct. Of the 499 pitchers with 20-loss seasons, Mike Maroth (9-21 in 2003) is the only one to suffer the cruel fate in the last 35 years.

    It would now take someone truly awful like Maroth—who posted a 5.73 ERA and 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9)—to join this list. Or a 27-year-old All-Star who entered the season as a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate.

    At 7-16, Chris Archer could feasibly become the first 20-game loser in over a decade. He'd also be the first to ever get saddled with 20 or more defeats with a K/9 or 9.0 higher. His 10.66 K/9 currently ranks No. 7 among qualified starters.

Miguel Cabrera: 2,500 Hits and 1,000 Walks

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    Miguel Cabrera will set many magnificent milestones before his career is over.
    Miguel Cabrera will set many magnificent milestones before his career is over.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Cabrera's Career Hits: 2,470

    Walks: 990

    Whether it happens in September or early next year, Miguel Cabrera is poised to become the 100th player to record 2,500 career base hits.

    The 33-year-old currently brandishes a .311 batting average, which would mark his eighth straight season above .300 if sustained. As long as he stays healthy, the future Hall of Famer will eventually join the more elusive 3,000-hit club currently occupied by 30 legends.

    After registering 27 hits in July and 21 so far in August, he's on the path to reaching 2,500 during the final month. He'll also notch another milestone rarely tracked or celebrated.

    A hit isn't the only way to reach base. Cabrera has drawn walks on 11.2 percent of his plate appearances, giving him a stellar .398 career on-base percentage. With 10 more free passes, he'll become the 118th position player to draw at least 1,000 walks.

    For those who care more about dingers, he's 15 home runs shy of 450. Barring a seismic September, that accomplishment will have to wait until 2017. There's no rush: Cabrera is going to set plenty of milestones before calling it quits.

Zack Greinke: 2,000 Strikeouts

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    Zack Greinke is closing in on career strikeout No. 2,000 during a down year.
    Zack Greinke is closing in on career strikeout No. 2,000 during a down year.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Greinke's Career Strikeouts: 1,995

    Zack Greinke probably isn't in a celebratory mood. After getting tagged for nine runs by the Boston Red Sox last Sunday, the ace's ERA ballooned to 4.31. (It dropped to 4.21 following a bounce-back outing Friday night.) He didn't yield more than nine runs in an entire month last year.

    It's not what the Arizona Diamondbacks expected when they lavished him with a six-year, $206.5 million deal. The 32-year-old has already allowed 17 more earned runs than last season in 98.2 fewer innings, and his K/9 has dipped to 7.84.

    He's no longer someone who will fan a batter per frame, but the intelligent ace has excelled on durability and excellent command. If not for missing six weeks with an oblique strain, Greinke would have already become the 78th hurler to amass 2,000 career strikeouts. 

    Nevertheless, one of this decade's premier starters is inches away from the milestone. He could do it next week against the light-hitting Atlanta Braves, but they're actually one of baseball's tougher teams to strike out.

Albert Pujols: Climbing Home Run Leaderboard

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    Albert Pujols is close to breaking into the top 10 in all-time home runs.
    Albert Pujols is close to breaking into the top 10 in all-time home runs.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
    9Frank Robinson586
    10Mark McGwire583
    11Albert Pujols582

    Let's take a moment to remember how amazing Albert Pujols was.

    The three-time National League MVP (and four-time runner-up) hasn't been his best since leaving the St. Louis Cardinals five years ago. After hitting over .300 with more than 30 homers in each of his 11 seasons with the Redbirds, he has declined into a low-contact pull hitter with a depreciated walk rate.

    His power, on the other hand, has not dissipated. The veteran slugger smacked 40 dingers for the first time since 2010 last year and likely the last time of his Hall of Fame career. While he's hitting an unspectacular .249/.316/.424—a slash line made more underwhelming from a frequent designated hitter—he has still procured 22 homers.

    It's taken longer than expected to pass fellow Cardinals legend Mark McGwire, as Pujols has accrued three homers since going yard twice on July 17 and 19. Yet given his swing-for-the-fences approach, he should tally the five deep flies necessary to move into No. 9 over McGwire and Frank Robinson.

    Next year, he should hit 600 while chasing down Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612). The 36-year-old no longer looks like a legitimate threat for 700, but it's not yet out of the realm of possibility.

Francisco Rodriguez: Climbing All-Time Saves Leaderboard

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    Francisco Rodriguez can rise to No. 4 on the all-time saves leaderboard.
    Francisco Rodriguez can rise to No. 4 on the all-time saves leaderboard.Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
    4John Franco424
    5Billy Wagner422
    6Francisco Rodriguez420

    Francisco Rodriguez won't touch Mariano Rivera's all-time record of 652 saves. Nor will he surpass runner-up Trevor Hoffman, who retired with 601. At most, he will catch Lee Smith (478) for third on the all-time leaderboard.

    Currently in sixth, K-Rod should leapfrog Billy Wagner and John Franco to fourth by October. After garnering six to eight saves every month this season, he has over a month to pass both closers with six more saves.

    The 34-year-old spent six full seasons as a shutdown stopper before losing his grip on the mystified role. Along with setting up John Axford in 2012, midseason trades in 2011 and 2013 removed Rodriguez from the ninth inning. Like Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon, his save total looked poised to stay stuck below 400.

    He then, however, found new life back with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he amassed 82 saves over 2014 and 2015. As a result, the Detroit Tigers brought him on board back for a two-year deal with a $6 million club option, per Cot's Baseball Contracts

    Despite his career-low 7.83 K/9, Rodriguez has matured beyond his nickname by harnessing his command and inducing a career-best 53.2 ground-ball rate in 2016. A 3.09 ERA should buy him at least one more year to chase down Smith.

Los Angeles Dodgers or Washington Nationals: Most Strikeouts by a Pitching Staff

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    Max Scherzer could lead the Washington Nationals pitching staff to the single-season strikeout record.
    Max Scherzer could lead the Washington Nationals pitching staff to the single-season strikeout record.Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
    2014 Cleveland Indians (Record)1,450 8.89
    2016 Los Angeles Dodgers1,1309.32
    2016 Washington Nationals1,1169.16

    Two years ago, the Cleveland Indians set an MLB record with 1,450 strikeouts. Given the rising tide of strikeout rates, they couldn't get too comfortable in the record books.

    Striking out over a batter per inning, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals are both on pace to top Cleveland's mark. So are the New York Yankees, but losing dominant relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman hurts their cause.

    While the Dodgers currently hold the narrow edge, look for the Nationals to finish on top. Clayton Kershaw's return isn't imminent, and Rich Hill's team debut has constantly been pushed back. Even if he arrives, he's not a safe bet to stay healthy.

    Meanwhile, Max Scherzer has submitted an MLB-best 211 strikeouts, and Stephen Strasburg is sitting on 179 through 145.1 innings. Although both inconsistent, veteran Gio Gonzalez and rookie Reynaldo Lopez can generate whiffs in bunches.

    Then again, the Nationals have established a comfortable lead in the National League East. They might play the final two weeks on cruise control and rest some of their star arms. This record probably isn't enough to convince them otherwise, but avoiding rust before the playoffs might.

Milwaukee Brewers: Most Strikeouts from an Offense

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    Chris Carter may once again partake in an offense striking out a record amount.
    Chris Carter may once again partake in an offense striking out a record amount.Denis Poroy/Getty Images
    2013 Houston Astros (Record)6,0201,53525.5
    2016 Milwaukee Brewers4,5481,14325.1

    On the flip side, MLB's rising tolerance of strikeouts could cause an offense to set a dubious record.

    Before Carlos Correa arrived and Altuve morphed into a 5'6" giant, the Astros went 51-111 with an MLB-worst 1,535 strikeouts in 2013. The 52-69 Milwaukee Brewers have already won more games, but they're on pace to challenge the unflattering mark.

    The one significant connection between these squads? Chris Carter. The truest of the three-true-outcome sluggers accumulated a league-high 212 strikeouts for Houston three years ago. He's now guiding a new quest for infamy with a 32.3 strikeout percentage, lower than 2013's 36.2 but still higher than all position players besides Chris Davis.

    Milwaukee has exhibited an extreme level of patience, drawing the second-best walk percentage (10.2) in the bigs behind the Chicago Cubs. The selective approach has caused a mixed bag of results for an offense ranking No. 19 in weighted on-base average (wOBA). 

    It's not only Carter taking regular walks of shame back to the dugout. The red-hot Keon Broxton has run away with the center-field gig, but he still has 55 strikeouts over 153 plate appearances. Although a pleasant surprise with a .383 on-base percentage and 47 steals, Jonathan Villar has fanned 134 times.

    Milwaukee has moved Aaron Hill and Jonathan Lucroy, so the young lineup around the regularly day-to-day Ryan Braun is even more vulnerable during the final weeks.

Zach Britton: Lowest Single-Season ERA from a RP

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    Zach Britton is having an incredible season out of the bullpen.
    Zach Britton is having an incredible season out of the bullpen.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Britton's 2016 ERA: 0.54

    Record: 0.60 (Fernando Rodney in 2012)

    Since allowing three earned runs in April, Zach Britton has tossed 40.1 consecutive scoreless innings. On the strength of a 0.54 ERA and 37 saves in as many chances, the Baltimore Orioles closer is gaining traction as a legitimate American League Cy Young Award contender.

    The lack of starting aces aids his candidacy, so he's a worthy candidate if he keeps throwing spotless ninth innings out of the bullpen. If the scoreless streak continues through September, he'll top Fernando Rodney's single-season ERA title (0.60) earned four years ago.

    Rodney surrendered five earned runs (his last accrued on August 8) over 74.2 frames. Baltimore's stopper has a tough act to follow, but it's possible with an 80.5 ground-ball rate head and shoulders above all others. He has combined all that weak contact with 59 strikeouts in 50.1 innings.

    Britton also has an outside shot at setting some other milestones. In 2003, Eric Gagne earned the NL Cy Young Award for nailing down all 55 save opportunities. Britton has a realistic chance of becoming the first reliever in 13 years to take home the honor and the first AL closer to win the award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

    If the Orioles can somehow present him 19 save opportunities over the final 41 games—and he converts them all—Britton would break Gagne's mark of most saves without any blown attempts in a single season.

David Ortiz: Home Run Leaderboard (and Other Milestones)

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    David Ortiz can move two spots up on the homer leaderboard before retiring.
    David Ortiz can move two spots up on the homer leaderboard before retiring.Jason Miller/Getty Images
    17Mickey Mantle536
    18Jimmie Foxx534
    19David Ortiz531

    In the final season of his career, David Ortiz is as good as ever. The Boston Red Sox designated hitter leads the league in slugging percentage (.628) and is one of four qualified hitters (Bryce Harper, Ben Zobrist and Joe Panik) with more walks than strikeouts.

    The 40-year-old recently recorded his 1,000th career extra-base hit, a feat only Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams have accomplished in Red Sox history. He reflected on the achievement after homering on August 12, per the Boston Herald's Jason Mastrodonato.

    “Means I’m getting old," Ortiz said. "It’s been a long journey, you know? I thought I already passed that. I was a little confused when they told me that’s your 1,000th with the Red Sox. Man, catching up. But it’s good, hitting extra bases is not easy. Going 1,000 extra base in your career, I’ve been swinging for power real well.” 

    While there's no major milestone or record left to shatter, Ortiz can pass two more legends on the home-run ledger. He'll need four to pass Jimmie Foxx and six to irk New York Yankees fans by elapsing Mickey Mantle for No. 17 on the leaderboard.

    Big Papi is also closing in on 1,400 career runs, and he's three doubles shy of replacing Aaron for No. 10 all-time. Not bad for someone who didn't blossom in Boston until his late 20s.

    Note: All statistics obtained from FanGraphs and unless otherwise noted.

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