MLB Milestones That Were on Track to (and Still Could) Be Passed in 2020

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 29, 2020

MLB Milestones That Were on Track to (and Still Could) Be Passed in 2020

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Given that it'll be only 60 games long, nobody should be expecting any single-season records to fall during the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

    There are, however, a few players who could reach some career milestones despite the shortened season.

    We've pinpointed eight who are chasing either notable round numbers or higher ranks on hallowed all-time lists. It's unlikely that all of them will hit their marks by the end of the season, but their respective quests are worth rooting for anyway.

    We'll begin with four pitchers and end with four hitters.

Mark Melancon: 200 Saves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Career Saves: 194

    When the San Francisco Giants signed Mark Melancon to a four-year, $64 million contract in 2016, he was a three-time All-Star who had racked up more saves than any other closer over the two prior seasons.

    In three seasons since then, however, Melancon has mustered only 26 saves. He was injured for much of 2017 and 2018, and he began 2019 working as a setup man for Will Smith.

    But then the Giants traded Melancon to the Atlanta Braves, where he finished the year off with a solid 3.86 ERA and 11 saves in 11 chances. And while he's once again teammates with Smith, the Braves' plan for the two pitchers is the inverse of how the Giants used them last season.

    That's to say Melancon, 35, is going to keep getting save opportunities. Assuming he doesn't struggle and lose his job, he should get the six saves he needs to become the 52nd pitcher to cross the 200 plateau.

Justin Verlander: 3,000 Innings Pitched

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Career Innings: 2,982

    Way back when the 2020 season was supposed to start on time, Justin Verlander was slated to begin the year on the injured list with a strained lat. On top of that, he later had surgery to repair an injured groin.

    Three months later, the 37-year-old should be good to go. He told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart in April that he was recovering "very well" from his injuries. Two weeks ago, he posted a video of himself throwing off a mound to his Instagram.

    So long as his body doesn't betray him again, Verlander is a lock to get the 18 innings he needs to notch 3,000 for his career. That's a big deal for a modern pitcher, as only Mark Buehrle and CC Sabathia have pitched as many as 3,000 innings since the turn of the century.

    Along with his MVP, two Cy Young Awards, eight All-Star selections, a World Series championship and numerous other accolades, 3,000 innings can only help Verlander end up in the Hall of Fame.

Jon Lester: 200 Wins

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    Career Wins: 190

    Because he's 36 years old and in the last guaranteed year of his contract with the Chicago Cubs, there's a chance that this will be the final season of Jon Lester's career.

    It would be nice if he got to 200 wins before it's over.

    Because he's probably going to make only 12 or 13 starts this year, Lester himself will need to pitch better than he did as he was putting up a pedestrian 4.46 ERA in 2019. His teammates, meanwhile, will need to come through with regular run support.

    It might be a long shot. But if Lester can get it done, he'll become only the seventh pitcher to win 200 games in the 21st century. In addition to his five All-Star selections and three World Series rings, that would be something for Hall of Fame voters to consider when Lester appears on the ballot.

Clayton Kershaw: 2,500 Strikeouts

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Career Strikeouts: 2,464

    Clayton Kershaw is human now. 

    Though his track record with the Los Angeles Dodgers still includes an MVP, three Cy Young Awards and five National League ERA titles, Kershaw is four years removed from his last 200-inning season and also coming off his first 3.00-plus ERA since his rookie year in 2008.

    Yet even if the 32-year-old is past his prime, it must be acknowledged that he's still very, very good. Per his 137 ERA+, he was 37 percent better than the average pitcher in 2019. It helped that he struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings, mainly by way of his rejuvenated slider.

    So health permitting, he should get the 36 strikeouts he needs for 2,500 for his career. Only 10 other left-handers have ever hit that mark, and just seven have done it since MLB lowered the mound in 1969.

Billy Hamilton: 300 Stolen Bases

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Career Stolen Bases: 299

    Though he initially signed a minor league deal with the team in February, Billy Hamilton is on track to open 2020 as the Giants' everyday center fielder.

    Since the 29-year-old is only one away, the 300th stolen base of his career should swiftly follow.

    From one perspective, Hamilton getting to 300 career steals wouldn't be that big of a deal. It's a round number and all, but there are already 113 players in that particular club.

    Yet many of those players were stealing bases in eras when the stolen base was a common and much-valued part of the game. For a variety of reasons, that hasn't been the case in recent decades. So when Hamilton does steal his 300th base, he'll become only the 17th player to do so since 2000.

Mike Trout: 300 Home Runs

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Career Home Runs: 285

    It's no secret by now that Mike Trout's brilliance is best captured by wins above replacement.

    To wit, last year was his age-27 season and it ended with him running his career WAR up to 72.8. That's the most ever for a player his age.

    But as easy as it is to obsess over Trout's WAR exploits, it's to the Los Angeles Angels star's credit that he also boasts some impressive traditional stats. For instance, he's just 15 home runs away from 300 for his career. If he stays on the pace that got him to 45 long balls in 2019, he might get there this year.

    Not even Hank Aaron had 300 home runs by his age-28 season. What's more, Trout would join Alex Rodriguez as the only two players in history with 300 homers and 200 stolen bases at that age.

Miguel Cabrera: 1,700 RBI

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Career RBI: 1,694

    In a normal season, Miguel Cabrera would have been a candidate to record both his 600th double and his 500th home run in 2020.

    Alas, that's almost certainly not happening within the confines of the Detroit Tigers' 60-game schedule. Even if he's as hot as he was back in spring training, there probably won't be enough time for Cabrera to collect both the 23 doubles and 23 home runs he needs to hit the aforementioned thresholds.

    Yet the 37-year-old should at least get his 1,700th run batted in out of the way. He's only six away, so he wouldn't even have to stay hot to get there. He would merely need to stay healthy.

    You might be surprised to hear that not even Jim Thome hit the 1,700-RBI mark throughout his Hall of Fame career. And of the 26 players who have, only Albert Pujols and David Ortiz did so elusively in the 21st century.

Albert Pujols: 660 Home Runs and 2,086 RBI

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Career HR and RBI: 656 and 2,075

    By all rights, this season and next season should be about Albert Pujols' effort to reach 700 home runs before his contract with the Angels expires and, in turn, his career ends.

    Unfortunately, that ship has probably sailed. Though Pujols is only 44 home runs away from going where only Aaron, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have gone before, he's needed 248 games to hit his last 44 homers. At most, he can play in 222 games over the next two seasons.

    On the bright side, Pujols should at least move into fifth place on the all-time home run list this season. He needs only four to tie Willie Mays, and five to pass him.

    An eye should also be kept on the 40-year-old's RBI count. His 2,075 runs batted in currently tie him with Cap Anson for fourth all time. With 12 more, he'll leapfrog A-Rod and be left looking up at only Ruth (2,214) and Aaron (2,297).

                  

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant.