Max Scherzer joins the 3,000 K club.

Scherzer is the third pitcher since 2019 to reach 3,000 Ks—Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia did it that year. (Wikipedia).

Max Scherzer has joined the immortals.

When Scherzer got the Padres Eric Hosmer swinging in the fifth inning yesterday, he became just the 19th pitcher with 3,000 or more career strikeouts.

And he did it quickly, in just 14 seasons.

Having developed into one of the game’s best strikeout pitchers as he entered his prime in his late 20s, he hasn’t averaged less than 10 Ks per nine innings pitched since 2012, when he was with Detroit.

Since then, he has won three strikeout titles—in 2016, 2017 and 2018—and K-ed 200-plus batters nine times and 250 or more five times—including 300 with Washington in 2018. He has thrice led the league in K/9 IP ratio and is fifth all-time in that category, with a career 10.73 mark. Because he has excellent control, having walked 70 batters in a season just once, the hurler has paced the loop in K/BB ratio four times, as well.

And his control is impeccable. He has never led the league in BB/9 IP, however he has placed in the top ten five times. He is third in the National League this year. He was second in 2015.

To say, then, that Scherzer is merely a strikeout pitcher is an insult to his body of work. He’s an artist, an expert, a workhorse and a winner. And what a winner he is. In this age of low victory totals, he’s led the league in that category four times, with as many as 21 in a season. At the doorstep of 200 with 189 for his career, he is nearing another impressive milestone, one only two active pitchers have reached. He has just 97 losses; that’s a career .661 winning percentage.

And a workhorse? Well, that might be an understatement. He’s led the league in games started, innings pitched and batters faced twice, each. Three times he has paced the loop in complete games and twice in shutouts.

But all those pitches, all those innings don’t affect his performance. They don’t hurt his ability to nibble the corners. To keep men off base. To throw with precision, pitch after pitch.

In 2,519 1/3 innings—the fifth-highest total among active hurlers—he’s surrendered just 2,053 hits, or a mere 7.3 per nine frames. He’s led the league in that category three times. And, since he doesn’t walk anyone, he’s paced the loop in WHIP five times, as well. His 1.082 mark is 15th-best ever. Better than Juan Marichal. Better than Sandy Koufax.

And fans, writers and baseball intelligentsia recognize his dominance. Selected to eight All-Star teams, he has won three Cy Young Awards—in 2013, 2016 and 2017—and finished second and third in voting once each. He finished fifth twice. In MVP balloting, usually dedicated to the very best hitters, he placed tenth three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018.

Between his Cy Young campaigns of 2013 and 2016, there was 2015, a magical year in itself. In addition to striking out 276 batters and posting a 2.79 ERA, he led the league with four complete games and three shutouts.

Scherzer’s black and grey ink are 57 and 202, respectively. The average Hall of Famer’s are 50 and 185. (Wikipedia).

Two of which were no-hitters. And both nearly perfect.

On June 20, facing the Pirates, Scherzer went 8 2/3 innings without allowing a man on base. To that point, he had 10 strikeouts. Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen had K-ed twice.

Just one out shy of perfection, with the crowd on its feet, Scherzer … plunked pinch hitter Jose Tabata. The next batter, Josh Harrison, flied out. So close. A no-hitter is quite the consolation prize.

Incredibly, he was coming off a one-hit, one-walk 16-strikeout shutout against Milwaukee on June 14 in which he was perfect through the first six innings. In his following start, he was perfect through his first five.

A few months later, in his last start of the season, he made history again in a performance that was greater than his near-perfect game.

Facing Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey at the rest of the New York Mets, Scherzer walked not a soul as Mets batsmen went hitless. In fact, he himself didn’t allow any baserunners. The only man to reach was gifted his chance by way of a sixth inning throwing error by third baseman Yunel Escobar.

And he struck out 17 Mets, including, at one point, nine in a row. Shortstop Ruben Tejada and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis whiffed three times each. Three other men K-ed twice.

He wasn’t able carry the dominance of that game into the postseason; Washington missed it, winning just 83 games on the year.

But the playoffs haven’t been elusive for Scherzer in his 14 seasons—he’s pitched in them seven times. In his first series, with Detroit back in 2011, he tossed 7 1/3 innings, K-ed 7 batters, posted a 1.23 ERA and won a game. In 2012, he made his first World Series appearance. It wasn’t his best performance—in 6 1/3 innings, he allowed 3  earned runs on 7 hits and a walk. He walked away with the no-decision, but the Tigers lost the series.

Skip to nearly a decade later, in 2019, with Washington. Scherzer won a game in the NLDS and NLCS, throwing seven innings of scoreless, one-hit, 11-strikeout ball in the latter.

Propelled to the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history, Washington had Scherzer take the mound twice against Houston in that nail-biting, seven-game series. Starting Game One, he went five innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out seven Astros for the win. He didn’t pitch in Games Two through Six. But he was called upon to seal the deal in Game Seven.

Scherzer is 7-5 with a 3.38 ERA in 22 postseason appearances. (Wikipedia).

By Scherzer’s standards, it was a rough outing. Granted, he again surrendered just two earned runs, but he also allowed seven hits and four walks in five innings of work. He left the game with the Nationals trailing, 2-0. The uninspiring Patrick Corbin took over and tossed 3 scoreless innings. Daniel Hudson didn’t allow a run his inning, either. The Nationals offense came alive in the seventh with two home runs. They beat Houston, 6-2 and won the World Series in seven games.

Scherzer got his ring, icing on the cake of what has become a legendary career.

But he wasn’t always a shoo-in for greatness. Though he was the Diamondbacks’ first round pick in 2006—taken in the same round as Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum—his big league career began a little … disappointingly. Despite a 151 ERA+ his first season, 2008, he was 0-4 in 56 innings. The next year, he again posted a losing record of 9-11, with a 4.12 ERA. In 2010, he was solid but not spectacular at 12-11, 3.50 and in 2011, despite winning 15 games, he had a mediocre campaign with a 4.43 ERA and 93 ERA+. By then, he was already 27 years old.

That, however, was the old Scherzer. In 2013, everything clicked and he hasn’t looked back since. In those nine years, he’s gone 137-55 with a 2.80 ERA and 150 ERA+. In 1,714 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 2,174 batters (over 11 per nine innings) and posted a tiny WHIP of 0.982.

That is the Scherzer history will remember. That is the Scherzer who will get into Cooperstown. That is the Scherzer who reached 3,000 strikeouts.

And became immortal.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 3, 2021.

Familia has spent his whole career with New York, save for a 30 game stint with Oakland in 2018. (Wikipedia).

Familia territory: Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia saved 43 games with a 1.85 ERA in 2015 and had a league-leading 51 saves in an All-Star 2016. Since then, he’s slipped to a 4.07 ERA, but his recent stretch resembles the Familia of old. He’s struck out 6 batters in his last 3 innings of work, 30 in his last 21 1/3 frames and 61 in 48 2/3 innings on the year as a whole.

Hunter’s no longer stricken: Brewers hurler Hunter Strickland was one of the game’s better relievers in the mid-2010s, but was stricken with a rapid decline in performance from 2018 to 2020. He seems to have gotten over it: Since joining Milwaukee—his third team this year—on June 14, he has a 1.30 ERA in 25 games; over the past month, that mark is 0.73 in 11 games. He’s 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA is 47 appearances overall.

Marchan marchin’ on: 22-year-old Phillies catcher Rafael Marchan has been a pleasant surprise these past few games, carrying a .333/.412/.667 line with a home run and 3 RBI since August 29. He debuted with a bang last year, going 4-for-8 with a dinger and 3 RBI in a cup of coffee with Philadelphia.

Bryan’s cruisin’ along: If the Marlins’ youngsters can coalesce at the same time, Miami might actually have a decent club in the near future. One such factor in it might be 24-year-old rookie outfielder Bryan De La Cruz, who has hit .340 in 100 at-bats with the club this year and .367/.400/.506 over the past month. He arrived with pitcher Austin Pruitt in a July 28 trade with Houston for reliever Yimi Garcia.

Milestone watch: Kevin Pillar recently played his 1,000th career game, while Anthony Rizzo eclipsed 5,000 at-bats, Josh Donaldson reached 5,000 plate appearances, Nelson Cruz scored his 1,000th run, Asdrubal Cabrera knocked his 400th double, Justin Upton collected his 1,000th RBI, Eric Hosmer and Donaldson clobbered their 500th extra base hits, Jose Abreu was clocked by his 100th pitch (and Salvador Perez by his 50th) and fearsome Freddie Freeman drew his 100th intentional walk.

Growing hopeful about the Mets: New York has won four straight games and are now just a game under .500. They’re 5 back in the Wild Card. Pete Alonso has been cranking the past month. Pitcher Carlos Carrasco might be turning a corner and Marcus Stroman is still throwing like an ace. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over …

Don’t do well in the majors: Lee Gronkiewicz, who had a 2.43 ERA and 159 saves in eight seasons on the farm pitched a single game with the Blue Jays in 2007. Bobby Korecky had a 3.10 ERA and 186 saves in 14 minor league seasons, but posted a 7.39 mark in 24 big league games over 4 seasons. Kevin Quackenbush owns a 2.19 ERA and 127 saves in the minors; he has a 4.41 mark and 87 ERA+ in the bigs. Successful minor league relief pitchers often don’t well at the major league level, or get much of a chance.

Weiss wasn’t much of a hitter, finishing with a career OPS+ of 78. (Wikipedia).

Exactly the same: 1990s shortstop and former Rockies manager Walt Weiss owns the highest career strikeout and walk totals of anyone who finished with the exact same amount (658) of each.

Sharing a name with the stars: Jimmy Stewart was one of the most famous actors of the 20th century. Jimmy Stewart—a different one—was a utilityman who spent 10 years in the majors in the 1960s and 1970s, playing for the Cubs, Reds and others. He’s not the first or only ballplayer to share names with a more famous counterpart—Mike Tyson is a notorious boxer; his baseball pairing was an infielder who played mostly for the Cardinals in the 1970s and early ‘80s. And don’t forget 1980s pitcher Bob Gibson (not to be confused with the Hall of Famer) or ‘80s Mariners outfielder Ricky Nelson (not to be confused with the more famous singer).

Hurlers can hit ‘em, too: Facing the Cubs on May 13, 1942, Braves pitcher Jim Tobin became the only pitcher in modern baseball history to hit three home runs in a single game. With a .230 career average, he was a great hitting pitcher and was often asked to pinch hit.

It was against the Mets: Former Rays pitcher Esteban Yan was the first American League pitcher since the introduction of the designated hitter rule in 1973 to homer in his first career at-bat. Facing the Mets’ Bobby Jones on June 4, 2000, he clobbered an inconsequential solo shot in a game Tampa Bay won 15-5. He also collected a hit in his only other career at-bat.

Unknown member of 60 dinger club: Wladimir Balentien was a fairly well-touted prospect in the 2000s, having set the Arizona League season record for home runs with 16 in 2003. He never found his stroke in the major leagues, but sure did when he went to Japan: In 2013, he hammered 60 big flies for the Yakult Swallows, setting a Nippon Professional Baseball record. He’s still playing over there to this day and has 494 career home runs between all levels.

Hate to say this about him, but: Roger Maris was the ultimate two-year wonder. Before his arrival with the Yankees in 1960, he slashed just .249/.329/.434 with 58 home runs and 203 RBI in 388 games. Then he set the baseball world ablaze by winning two straight MVP awards in 1960 and 1961 and, of course, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 the latter year. But after that, he was decent, but nothing to write home about: He averaged just 111 games per year over the rest of his career, slashing .259/.343/.446. He earned over 40% of the vote on the Hall of Fame ballot, but two great years does not a Hall of Fame career make … no matter how legendary one of the campaigns might have been.

Maris and Mantle combined for 115 home runs in 1961. The Kansas City Athletics had 90 as a team that year. (Wikipedia).

We’ll try our luck: Most home runs in a season without drawing an intentional walk? Roger Maris in his record-setting 61 home run, 1961 campaign. He batted in front of Mickey Mantle; pitchers preferred to try their hand with the superstar, not the legend. The career record for dingers without an IBB, among players for whom we have complete data, is 107, presently held by Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman.

Records haven’t updated: With the Society for American Baseball Research keeping an eye on things, you’d think they’d catch and verify whenever a former big leaguer passes away. However, such is not the case—it’s fairly well-known that former Braves catcher Hal King died some time ago (even they recognize that) but there has been no official confirmation or article to validate the claim, so they cannot mark him down as “deceased.” And so, he remains alive, per official records at least.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 30, 2021.

Miguel Cabrera’s run for 3,000 has been as protracted as his run for 500 homers. (Wikipedia).

Miguel Cabrera 3,000 hit watch: With a single yesterday, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is just 39 hits away from 3,000 for his career. It’s not out of the question he could get there this season. Assuming he manages no more hits in August, he would need to have his best month since late 2014 to reach the milestone.

Swing and a miss: Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard has struck out 57 times in 135 at-bats this season—that would translate to 253 in a 600 at-bat campaign. And that’s not even the worst rate among players with 100 or more ABs. Mariners outfielder Taylor Trammell has 75 Ks in 156 of them—meaning he strikes out nearly half the time.

You go, Tsutsugo: Yoshi Tsutsugo has played for three teams this season. With the Rays, he hit .167 in 78 at-bats and with the Dodgers, .120 in 25 at-bats. But things are looking up with team number three. Since joining the Pirates on August 16, he’s batted .333 with 9 hits, 6 runs and 11 RBI. Five of his nine knocks were dingers. Three of his 4 hits this past week left the yard.

The strikeout meme is getting old: Strikeout pitchers were cool once, but not anymore, now that they’re everywhere. The Indians’ Trevor Stephan, as mediocre as they come, had 9 Ks in his past 4 2/3 innings. He has a 4.50 ERA and 101 ERA+ on the year.

Hard to keep ‘em straight: There are three Luis Garcias active in the majors as we speak. The Cardinals Luis Garcia, a veteran relief pitcher, hasn’t allowed an earned run in 19 innings. The Astros Luis Garcia, a young hurler, is 10-6 with a 3.21 ERA this year.  The Nationals Luis Garcia, a top prospect infielder, is hitting .208 in 40 games. A Luis Garcia also played in 1999, and another appeared in 2002.

It seems like just yesterday we celebrated Cal McVey turning a century old. But it was actually almost a century ago. (Wikipedia).

Happy birthday, (really) old guy: Cal McVey, one of the top stars in the old National Association, turns 172 today. Happy birthday, Cal! (He was born in 1849).

A splendid day: It’s also Ted Williams’ birthday. A veritable legend, Williams made 19 All-Star Games; the last man to make that many was Cal Ripken Jr., who retired in 2001. The active player with the most is Miguel Cabrera, with 11.

THAT’S how you pronounce it? Have you ever pronounced a ballplayers surname one way your entire life, just to realize you’ve been saying it wrong the whole time? I recently found out former closer Troy Percival’s surname is pronounced PURR-siv-ull, emphasis on the Purr. I always pronounced it Purr-siv-ALL. Huh.

I’m going to be petty: The Mets have a pitcher named Tylor Megill. No, you don’t pronounce it like “Tyler,” you dummy, it’s “Ty-LOR.” Some clever parents there, weren’t they? This modern trend of slightly altering common names with ridiculous spellings or pronunciations is worse than the one of boys names all ending with “-den” (Aiden, Brayden, etc.). If you’re going to get creative, get creative. Think of something new, or at least combine some words cleverly. I’m going to name my child Albalog, after this blog.

Ramon’s rough year: In 1998, the Devil Rays let pitcher Ramon Tatis take the mound 22 times—despite his atrocious 13.89 ERA. With the fourth-best mark in the league, the club had solid pitching, and the bullpen was especially good—so they had other options. Tatis later posted a 10.72 ERA for the Triple A Columbus Clippers and a 54.00 mark for Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters in 2000, then a 15.43 ERA for the Mexican League’s Tecolotes in 2003.

Some teams never learn: In 2002, the Devil Rays trotted Jesus Colome out there 32 times … despite his 8.27 ERA. In 2007, Jon Switzer’s 8.05 mark didn’t stop them from using him 21 times, nor did Dana Eveland’s ERA of 9.00 dissuade the Rays from giving him 33 appearances in 2016.

It still happens to this day: The 2021 Cardinals feature star pitcher Tyler Webb (22 G, 13.22 ERA) and the Rockies have Yency Almonte (39 G, 8.36 ERA).

The $64,000 question: Who holds the record for most appearances in a season with an ERA over 8? Believe it or not, it’s happened three times and twice in one year. In 1999, the Marlins Vic Darensbourg and Colorado’s Mike DeJean each pitched 56 games and had marks of 8.83 and 8.41, respectively. In 1995, Bryan Hickerson—who spent part of the year with the Rockies (there seems to be a trend here)—had an 8.57 ERA in as many games.

Tyler Olson is one of only three pitchers with 20 or more innings and a 0.00 ERA in the same year, as well. (Wikipedia).

Enough high-ERA talk: Let’s talk low ERAs. The best mark in a season among pitchers with 20-plus appearances is … 0. In 2017, the Indians’ Tyler Olson didn’t allow a single run in 30 games … then he had a 4.66 ERA in 82 appearances between 2018 and 2019 and hasn’t pitched in the majors since. Earl Moore, a solid Dead Ball Era pitcher, holds the season mark for most innings with an ERA of 0.00, tossing 26 scoreless frames for the Phillies in 1908. He was 163-154 with a 2.78 ERA overall.

The Hall hasn’t called yet, either: From 1904 to 1919 – the span of his career – outfielder Sherry Magee appeared in more games, had more plate appearances, more at-bats, more runs, more doubles, more triples, more RBI, more total bases, more extra base hits and was on base more than anyone in the National League. Second behind him in all those categories? Honus Wagner. Now THAT is impressive.

Greatest fielding pitcher ever? Per Baseball-Reference.com, reliever Luis Vizcaino, who appeared in 543 games from 1999 to 2009, is the only qualifying pitcher with a career of 10 seasons or more to never commit an error. (To qualify, a hurler needs 500+ innings pitched).

Lamenting that deal: You know, I didn’t think the Athletics’ Matt Olson would’ve kept up his hot hitting all year long. In my fantasy league, I traded him with catcher Jacob Stallings and infielder Joshua Fuentes for first baseman Pavin Smith and starting pitchers Zach Eflin and Mike Minor. I’m also 11th out of 20 teams.

He died: I’ve said I don’t want to make this a death blog, so I’m adamant about only announcing the deaths of the most famous players in the game. Also Wang Kuang-hui, who played a few years in Taiwan’s major league, died today.

Aroldis Chapman saves 300th game.

Aroldis Chapman‘s 300th save ties him with Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and Jason Isringhausen for 29th all-time. (Wikipedia).

In this whirlwind season of milestones, with Miguel Cabrera walloping his 500th home run and nearing 3,000 hits, with Max Scherzer nearing 3,000 Ks and Jon Lester drawing closer and closer to 200 wins, a pretty incredible feat slipped by and I didn’t even note it.

On August 26, fireballing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman earned his 300th career save.

Against the Athletics that night, with less than 9,000 fans in attendance, Chapman faced four batters and, after a few hiccups, managed to sit the necessary three of them down to preserve a 7-6 victory.

Number nine hitter Elvis Andrus flew out to start the bottom of the ninth inning, then Mark Canha whiffed. How apropos, Chapman K-ing someone in this historic game. Starling Marte singled, then stole second. It became a little dicey, as Matt Olson, a Most Valuable Player candidate, was the next man up. No worries, he grounded out to second base.

The crowd thundered uproariously at Chapman’s majestic feat—in his dreams that night, I imagine—as he joined a club of now 31 men, headed by the likes of Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

It was a milestone that Chapman seemed almost destined to reach from the day he defected from Cuba in 2009. As far as defections go, it was pretty bland. Playing in the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands, he walked out the front door of his team’s hotel into a waiting car—and away he went.

Hardly an unknown, he had wowed the baseball world during his years under communist rule and fetched a pretty penny once major league teams came knocking. The Reds inked him to a contract worth more than $30 million; his bonuses alone totaled more than $10 million.

And from there, it was gravy. Before even playing a professional game, Baseball America ranked him the sport’s 22nd-best prospect going into the 2010 season. The Reds sent him straight to Triple A—as a starter—and he responded by striking out 125 batters in 95 2/3 innings. By year’s end, he was in the majors as a reliever, striking out 19 batters in 13 1/3 frames.

Going into 2011, Baseball America elevated him to #7 on their top prospects list—ahead of Manny Machado, Chris Sale, Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado and fellow future star finisher Craig Kimbrel.  

With Francisco Cordero holding down the closer’s job, Chapman made 54 relief appearances in 2011, surrendering just 24 hits and striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings. That K rate would be his lowest total until 2017.

On April 11, he threw a pitch of 106 miles per hour. Aroldis Chapman had arrived.

Seizing the closing role in 2012, Chapman embarked on a—dare I say—legendary run that lasted until 2016. Saving 181 games, he had a 1.84 ERA and 217 ERA+ in those five years. In 313 2/3 innings, he allowed just 168 hits—and had 546 strikeouts. That’s 15.7 per nine innings. In 2014 alone, he averaged nearly two per frame. He was an All-Star each year from 2012 to 2015; in 2012, he finished 8th in Cy Young voting and earned MVP support.

2015 was his final season with Cincinnati. On December 28, they traded him to the Yankees for infielder Eric Jagielo (never reached the majors), pitcher Caleb Cotham (7.40 ERA with the Reds), pitcher Rookie Davis (8.63 ERA with the Reds) and utilityman Tony Renda (.183 average with the Reds).

Cincinnati has been around since the dawn of major league baseball; that still has to be one of the worst trades they ever made.

He wasn’t long for New York, spending about half a season there before being shipped to the Cubs on July 25 to help in Chicago’s playoff push and eventual World Series run. And boy did he help—in 28 regular season games, he had a 1.01 ERA and 418 ERA+, then he had 22 Ks in 15 2/3 postseason innings.

The Yankees re-signed Chapman on December 15, 2016, thereby recouping their losses from the trade to Chicago (with infielder Gleyber Torres to show for it, as well, as he was part of the initial deal).

Since rejoining New York, Chapman has stepped down from superhuman to merely superb. Admittedly, his numbers have taken a dip.

But it’s kind of like a fire dropping from 10,000 degrees to 8,000 degrees—it’s still really freakin’ hot.

From 2017 to 2020, he posted a 2.64 ERA and a 168 ERA+, making two more All-Star teams and averaging over 14 strikeouts per nine innings.

Even this year, with his walk rate double what it was in 2020 and his ERA sitting at 3.77, his numbers are still downright killer. 15.1 K/9 IP. 6.3 H/9 IP. Through May 21—that’s 18 games—he hadn’t allowed a single run. He was stung by three particularly abhorrent appearances, two of which he surrendered 4 and 3 runs, respectively, without recording a single out. Since his last bad showing on July 6, his ERA is 1.88. Remove those three appearances, in which he allowed a combined 11 earned runs in 1/3 of an inning, and his season mark is 1.48.

And it is his hot pitching, not just for most of this year but for his whole career, that has gotten Chapman to the 300 save mark.

He joins a club that now has 31 members—one less than the 3,000 hit club, just three more than the 500 home run club, and seven more than the 300 win club.

But it’s not as illustrious as it sounds. The evolution of the game was such that the conditions for 300-save closers to even exist didn’t begin coalescing until the late 1970s and early 1980s.

So, once every season or two, a new member is added. Kenley Jansen joined in 2019, Craig Kimbrel in 2018, Fernando Rodney in 2017.

While the other clubs are represented by only the very best, Chapman’s less distinguished group contains among the legends and the greats some goods, some decents, a couple mediocres.

Yes, Chapman now stands among Rivera and Hoffman, Fingers and Gossage and Sutter, Wilhelm and Eckersley and Smith. But right there with him, as well, are Jason Isringhausen and Jose Mesa, Todd Jones and his former teammate, Francisco Cordero.

But Chapman is no Isringhausen.

When all is said and done, his face might be carved into a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. He has a way to go—it’s hard to get behind someone with less than 600 career innings pitched—but if he keeps throwing gas and closing games and K-ing batters at rates we might never see again, who knows.

Chapman, that flamethrowing kid who walked out of a hotel into superstardom, might one day, after he retires, get to hear his name called once more.

Not to the mound, but to the Hall of Fame.

***

Chapman might be the last man to reach 300 saves for a few years. Mark Melancon is the next closest at 239, but he is 36 and coming off a decent but underwhelming 2017-2020 run. Joakim Soria (229) and Greg Holland (219) haven’t managed a 20 save season since 2015 and 2017, respectively, so their chances are slim. Edwin Diaz is fourth-closest at 167, and though he’s just 27, he’s been wildly inconsistent since his breakout 2018 campaign. Who knows what the future holds for him.

The next closest are Zach Britton (154 saves), Alex Colome (147), John Axford (144), Wade Davis (141), David Robertson (137) and Sergio Romo (135).

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 29, 2021

Max Scherzer began his transformation from a decent hurler to a Hall of Famer with Detroit. (Wikipedia).

Scherzer 3,000 K watch: With 10 strikeouts on the 26th, Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer put himself just 28 away from 3,000 for his career. He also needs just 12 for 200 on the year; when he reaches that milestone, he will have done it eight times in his career. Upon eclipsing 3,000 Ks, he will all but seal his chances for Cooperstown. But even if he suffers a catastrophic, career-ending injury in his next start …

Scherzer’s a sure lock: With his statistics (187 W, 2,972 K, 3.17 ERA, 65.4 WAR, 10.7 K/9) being what they are, one can comfortably say Max Scherzer is a future Hall of Famer right now, at this point in his career. Maybe not a first ballot guy, maybe he’d have to wait until the veteran’s committee put him in, but he ranks among the best of this generation, and in this era of high-strikeout pitchers, Scherzer has been among the best the longest.

Can Cabrera collect ‘em all? As the world turned its attention to Miguel Cabrera’s chase for 500 home runs, his quest for 3,000 hits took a backseat. But right now, he’s only 40 away with two games left to play in August. He had 37 hits in a month as recently as September/October 2016 and 41 hits in May 2014. He’ll have to perform as well as he did in his prime, but Cabrera could, feasibly, reach the fabled hits milestone this year.

Ibanez rocks: Royals rookie second baseman Andy Ibanez just recently concluded an eleven-game hitting streak in which he hit .488 with 6 doubles and 2 home runs. Over the past week, he’s hit .458 and raised his season average to .260, up from .200 on August 14. He recently got a boo-boo, however, and is currently day-to-day.

Mercadoubt: Oscar Mercado, a 26-year-old outfielder for Cleveland, made waves as a rookie in 2019 when he hit 19 home runs with 54 RBI and 15 stolen bases, to earn some Rookie of the Year support. Since then, he’s hit just .194 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI in 82 games, casting doubt on whether he’ll ever live up to his first-year promise.

Abreu had a 20.25 ERA in 2 games with New York in 2020. (Wikipedia).

Just one bad game: Yankees reliever Albert Abreu had a 1.88 ERA and .091 OBA through his first 14 1/3 innings of the season, then on July 29, he surrendered 3 dingers and 6 earned runs without getting an out, raising his 2021 mark all the way to 5.65. Since then, he has a 2.51 ERA, again in 14 1/3 innings—but still carries a 4.08 ERA overall.

The same ol’ Nolin: Prior to 2021, Nationals hurler Sean Nolin hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2015; he missed all of 2016 and 2017 and then bounced around the minors, indy ball, even the Mexican Pacific Winter League and Japan. In his first three stints from 2013 to 2015, he had a 6.89 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. The time away didn’t help: Since returning to the majors, he’s posted a 6.57 mark in 3 starts. His last outing was decent, however, as he allowed just 2 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Mets on August 28.

Mets could do it: The Mets defeated the Nationals handily this afternoon, 9-4, and have now won two-in-a-row, they’re longest winning streak since … who knows how long, my memory isn’t that good (it was actually August 10-12). Baseball Reference says they still have a 0.4% chance of making the postseason. They’re facing some weak teams over the final stretch of the season, so what if …

It’s been a while: The last time a rookie pitcher had 5 or more shutouts was in 1983, when Orioles hurler Mike Boddicker had exactly that many and led the league. The last time a rookie even had three shutouts in a campaign was 1995, when Hideo Nomo did it for the Dodgers; he also led the league. And when did a rookie last lead the league in shutouts at all? 2019. The Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara had two.

Complete games are a rarity, too: Boddicker and the Rangers’ Mike Smithson were the last rookie hurlers with 10-plus complete games in a season, achieving the feat in 1983. In an indictment on today’s game, the last rookie pitcher to complete even five games in a season was the Dodgers’ Ismael Valdez in 1995; even worse, J.A. Happ was the last rookie to manage 3 CGs, doing so in 2009.

Rarer than no-hitters? Since 2019, only eight pitchers have thrown more than one shutout in a season. There’s been that many no-hitters this year alone.

Got ‘em all in one year: Shortstop/outfielder Eric Yelding spent five years in the major leagues in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, playing for Astros and Cubs. He stole 89 bases in his career—in 1990 with Houston, he swiped 64 of them.

Willy kept going: Speaking of speedsters with short careers, Willy Taveras—who stole 68 bags for the Rockies in 2008—was playing independent ball for the Sugar Land Skeeters as recently at 2019. Who knew. He last played in the majors in 2010.

A home for the washed-up: That 2019 Skeeters team featured myriad players who you thought were long since retired. James Loney, who last played in the majors in 2016, spent time with them, as did Mitch Talbot (2011), Denis Phipps (2012), Daniel Schlereth (2012), Josh Prince (2013), Felipe Paulino (2014), Cesar Cabral (2015), Dallas Beeler (2015), Matt West (2015), Ryan Jackson (2015), Rico Noel (2015) and Cody Stanley (2015), among others.

With the minor league August Browns in 1886, Suck hit .091 in 88 at-bats. (Wikipedia).

How many did he have to hit? Moe Hill spent 15 years in professional baseball, including nine seasons in the Twins system. From 1971 to 1978, he played for the Single A Wisconsin Rapids Twins—which, in itself, was an impressive feat, since by his last season with them, he was 31 and almost a full decade older than the average man in the Midwest League. Even more amazingly: He won four home run titles in a row, from 1974 to 1977. Despite hitting 267 career home runs, he peaked at Double A and never earned a big league call.

He lived up to the name: Tony Suck, a utilityman in 1883 and 1884, hit .151/.205/.161 in 205 career at-bats, for an OPS+ of 24. He was born Charles Anthony Zuck—shoulda kept the original name.

 No camping under that one: Remember when Braves pitcher Rick Camp, then a .060 hitter, hit an 18th-inning, game-tying home run … at 3 in the morning?  

Article from the archives—Adrian Beltre: What 1,000 runs scored means for Rangers third baseman

On April 14, 2011, Adrian Beltre—a future Hall of Famer who was anything but a sure thing at that point—scored his 1,000th career run. It’s not a huge feat, as mentioned in this article, but I decided to memorialize it with some prose anyway. Usually I wouldn’t post something like this, because really all it does is announce something (that happened 10 years ago), but there were enough fun facts and trivial information throughout that I thought you’d enjoy reading it.

***

Adrian Beltre turned it on in his 30s after slashing just .271/.327/.459 in his teens and 20s. (Wikipedia).

Just the other day, on April 14, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre scored his 1,000th career run. Oh, you didn’t hear about it? Well, that’s to be expected—the feat wasn’t particularly well-publicized and run milestones don’t seem to garner much attention anyway.

What, then, makes the 33-year-old Beltre’s 1,000th crossing of home plate meaningful, or worth noting, or so valuable that one should put metaphorical quill to parchment and expound upon the landmark?

First, it’s a pretty impressive feat, even if it’s not particularly rare—he joins a club with 29 other active members and over 300 members overall. The active crew is riddled with greats like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki—that’s a pretty good fraternity to be in.

Most importantly, however, it signals that the Dominican third sacker could be quietly putting together a Hall of Fame career.

Third basemen with 1,000 runs, 2,000 hits and 300 home runs are a pretty rare breed—only four have posted those numbers since 1980, with Beltre and Cooperstown shoo-in Chipper Jones amongst the flock. Compare that to first basemen: In that span, more than twice as many initial sackers have posted those types of numbers. Clearly, third sackers with even decent power and hit-ability—by first base’s standards, at least—are hard to come by.

And Adrian Beltre is one of them, placing him in an elite group.

Of course, that is not to say that if Beltre were to retire today he would be a Hall of Famer—sure, among his positional peers he is in a supreme cabal, but to the untrained eye, he is still only decent.

Since third basemen don’t often reach the “milestone” numbers like 500 home runs and 3,000 hits with regularity, they are often underappreciated and even considered inferior to players at other positions on the diamond. They are somewhere between the historically uber-defensive shortstop and second base positions and the uber-offensive first base and right field positions. Being caught in that in-between segment of the baseball spectrum is one of the reasons why third base is an underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame.

And that’s why Beltre needs to keep adding to his career totals and accolades before he can rightfully claim a spot in Cooperstown.

Yes, he has three Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers, but a couple more of each wouldn’t hurt. Sure, he’s been an All-Star twice and, though All-Star appearances aren’t always a huge indicator of a Hall of Fame career—Robin Yount was only selected to three and Bert Blyleven to two—it wouldn’t hurt for him to tack on a couple more to his resume, lest he toil on the ballot for over a decade as 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Blyleven did.

And while accolades are nice, they don’t mean nearly as much if statistics aren’t there to back them up. Yes, 2,000 hits and 300 home runs are good—fantastic, even, for third basemen—but they don’t jump out at voters and the layperson. Fellow hot corner specialist Gary Gaetti had over 2,200 knocks and 360 longballs to boot and, though he is fondly remembered, no one is clamoring for his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Because of the position he mans, it is hard to say what Beltre needs to do to gain Cooperstown membership. Mike Schmidt earned election after hitting 548 home runs and playing great defense, yet Ron Santo entered the Hall, albeit after a long wait, with 342 dingers and defense that was only slightly above average, according to Defensive WAR. It’s a variable position with variable “rules” for induction.

Instead, let’s look at what he is on pace to achieve, according to famed Sabermatrician Bill James’ projection system called the “Favorite Toy,” and see if those numbers are enough to earn him the most prestigious call in all of baseball.

Chipper Jones finished with 468 home runs and 2,726 hits. (Wikipedia).

Using the tool, we find that Beltre is projected to hit 403 home runs and finish with 2,765 hits. He’s heading towards nearly 1,500 RBI and over 1,300 runs. Now those are Hall of Fame numbers and notably, they are not digits constructed from fantasy—they are what he is on pace to achieve per the extrapolation system.

In the history of the game ever, only four third basemen have hit over 400 home runs. Only three have collected at least 2,700 hits. Yet not one has combined such power numbers with those hit totals—something Beltre is statistically projected to do.

Chipper might be the first to join that club—he stands only 80 hits away from 2,700 and he already has over 450 moonshots—but Beltre, being half of that guild of two, would be a no-doubter for the Hall if he reached those numbers.

Now, that’s not saying he has to reach those marks to be a Hall of Famer. He could as easily collect 2,400 hits and whack 350 home runs and one day earn election, but he’d have to wait a few years, just as Ron Santo did. (Coincidentally, Beltre is most statistically similar to Santo through age 32, according to Baseball-Reference.com).

However Beltre’s career turns out, it’s hard to believe I’m talking about his blooming Hall of Fame prospects. To think: This was a guy people thought was washed up in 2005!

***

Beltre went on to score a lot more than 1,000 runs in his career and beat the projections set forth in the article handily. He is the only third baseman, and just one of 11 players, to finish with over 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. Having done so, he ranks among names like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial.

Now some less poetic analysis in light of Miguel Cabrera’s 500th dinger. Who’ll be the next to get there?

Miguel Cabrera was the first person to join the 500 home run club since 2015. (Wikipedia).

Miguel Cabrera might be the last man to join the 500 home run club for a while.

Nelson Cruz is, as of this writing, just 57 away, so two Cruzian seasons should, on paper, get him there. However, he’s also 41 with no real skills outside of hitting at this point, so if he struggles, then that will be all she wrote for his chances.

It’s unlikely teams would keep signing him just so he could try to claw his way to the magic number. Should he stumble at, say, 497, someone might give him the opportunity, but outside of that—once he’s done, he’s done.

The demise and departure of another great designated hitter happened within the past year, in fact. Edwin Encarnacion was chugging toward 500 when his bat died last season to the tune of a .157 average. No team signed him and he is stuck at 424 dingers.

He’s still just 38, which for an effective hitter is about 34 in DH years, so a comeback isn’t out of the question. But for a player with a skillset that includes one severely eroded primary skill—hitting—the market is thin.

Nelson Cruz is less than 60 home runs away from 500. (Wikipedia).

Had Encarnacion maintained his pace, he would’ve reached 500 homers in late 2022 or early 2023, meaning he could have gotten there before he was even 40.

So who reaches 500 home runs next if it’s not Cruz? Who knows. No one else has over 340 and no members of the active 300 homer club are under 30 years old.

Giancarlo Stanton, despite his weak past few seasons, has the ability to get there. It’s a matter of whether his body holds up. With 332 home runs to this point, he could reasonably trudge his way to 500, since he did so much when he was young. He helped beat time by getting the bulk of the work out of the way before time could beat him.

Though he’s known as a slugger because of his 59-home run 2017 campaign, the honest reality about Stanton is that his power is very inconsistent. For every year he’s led the league in slugging, he’s posted a mark below .500. Since 2018, he’s slugged .492 and his number has been at or below .500 four of the past six seasons.

Giancarlo Stanton’s power and health have declined in recent years. (Wikipedia).

If he is in the midst of a slow-but-accelerating power decline, and in a cycle of injuries that he, because of age, will likely never fully recover from (save for a rebound season here and there), then 500 dingers might just be a dream.

But if he can find balance and average 20 per season through his early 40s, then he can get there. A move to DH will probably be necessary to facilitate his run to 500. At the earliest, Stanton would join the club in 2026 or 2027.

Robinson Cano is the next-closest batter after Cruz, but he’s 38, has just 334 homers, is out the rest of this year due to a steroid suspension and—if his past six or so seasons are any indication—is in the midst of a steady decline. He’s not reaching the mark.

Neither is Justin Upton, who, though he’s only 33, can’t hit anymore, can’t field and can’t stay healthy. Even if he maintained his pace from his earlier years, 500 home runs would still have been a challenge because, though he had good pop, he was never really a slugger.

Joey Votto, who has never hit 40 dingers in a season, is 37 and more than 170 away. He’s declining, he’s had injury issues. He’s a no.

Evan Longoria—see what I just said about Votto.

Ryan Zimmerman—see what I just said about Longoria.

Then there’s Mike Trout. I’ll be the pessimist and say he’s going to have a hard time getting to 500. If anyone has a chance, it’s him, but after averaging 158 games per year from 2013 to 2016, he hasn’t appeared in more than 140 in a season since. He averaged just 110 per year from 2017 to 2020 and is on the 60-day injured list at we speak.

Mike Trout’s path to 500 could be difficult. (Wikipedia)

He started falling apart when he was 25 and still hasn’t fully put himself back together—tick tock, tick tock, Mike, you’re 30 years old now, the end of your peak is approaching fast.

From this point forward, he could go in one of two directions. The Frank Robinson route is more optimistic. Robinson was traded from the Reds to the Orioles in December 1965 because he was considered past his prime. Reds general manager Bill DeWitt called him an “old 30.”

He went on to hit 262 home runs the rest of the way and finish with 586 dingers.

Or, he could go the Ken Griffey Jr. route. Over the final ten seasons of his career, in his 30s, Griffey averaged just 19 home runs and 57 RBI per year. Albert Pujols also fell off dramatically in his 30s. So did Frank Thomas.

But they all reached 500 home runs, didn’t they? Yes. Griffey and Pujols reached 600, in fact. Pujols, with a little luck, could get to 700.

But neither Griffey nor Pujols nor Thomas had any major issues until they were in their 30s. From age 20 to age 30, Griffey averaged 141 games per year; he averaged 99 after that. From age 23 to age 32, Thomas averaged 147 games per year; he, too, averaged 99 after that. From age 21 to age 32, Pujols averaged 155 games per year; he averaged 121 after that.

Trout, just a couple weeks past his 30th birthday, is already in the after that phase of his career. Though his production hasn’t suffered when he’s been on the field—he still owns a superhuman OPS+ of 185 since the beginning of 2017—the ravages of time will soon, inevitably, take advantage of his injuries.

Eventually the aches and pains will start to affect his play. A peak only lasts so long. The body always wears down, and injuries push that along.

With sluggers, reaching age 30, rampant health issues and a swift decline in performance often correlate. Trout has two of those three already locked in. It’s just a matter of time before they catalyze the other.

Do I think he won’t reach 500 home runs? Well, I didn’t say that. I just don’t think it will be easy. Don’t be surprised if he takes a long, discouraging, Cabrera-esque path to that number. At the earliest, I think he’ll get there in 2030 or 2031.

Moving on.

Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are on pace for Hall of Fame careers, but they’re both likely to fall short of 500. They’re good home run hitters, but like Upton, not your prototypical sluggers. Save for Eddie Murray, each member of the 500 home run club slugged at least 40 in a season. Neither Freeman nor Goldschmidt have accomplished the feat.

Anthony Rizzo could be clumped in with those two, but it’s still too soon to say whether he’ll have a Hall of Fame career. But 400 to 450 dingers for him isn’t out of the question.

Bryce Harper is the most likely slugger to reach 500 home runs next. (Wikipedia).

The only other players one can comfortably discuss here are Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado.

Harper has the best shot at getting there. He already has a 40-home run season under his belt, has yet to have serious injury issues, isn’t yet 30 and, with 255 dingers to his name, is already halfway to the milestone. Assuming an average decline, he’ll probably make it.

Same with Arenado. He already has three 40-homer seasons, 260 dingers for his career and is just a few months past his 30th birthday—without any major injury issues yet. Even with a somewhat alarming decline in power these past couple seasons, he’s still trending toward 500, but if his power continues to decrease, he might settle somewhere in the 450 range.

Machado’s not yet had a 40-home run season, but his recent health history is top notch and his power consistency is among the best. Not even 30, he could reasonably compile his way to 500 dingers without ever having a truly standout campaign, like Eddie Murray.

More than likely, however, he’ll mirror Fred McGriff, who hit 493 home runs, and finish within sniffing distance of the mark. In fact, per Baseball Reference, one of Machado’s most similar players through age 28 is Adrian Beltre, who fell just 23 home runs shy of 500.

After nine players joined the 500 home run club in the 2000s, including three in 2007 alone, many fans lamented the elite group was no longer so elite, that it was quickly becoming watered down.

Since 2010, however, things have stabilized and just three men—Cabrera, Pujols and David Ortiz—have powered their way into the ranks. Two more players joined in the 1960s than in the 2010s and 2020s, combined.

And a strong potential exists that no new members will join for another decade, at least.

If everything goes right for him, Nelson Cruz should get there in a couple seasons. But he’s 41—one misstep, and he’s done. If his power of old returns and his health doesn’t collapse, Giancarlo Stanton could get there in less than a decade, but his present career swoon puts that into question. If he recovers from his health woes, Mike Trout could get there in five years or he could slog his way there in a decade, or he could completely fall apart. His injury history at so young an age is concerning.

The only player I can comfortably say will reach 500 home runs is Bryce Harper. He has age and health on his side, he’s a true slugger, and he’s yet to show any major decline.

But even that will is tentative. More or less, it’s shorthand for will, barring … As in, he will reach 500 home runs, barring injury (or decline, et cetera).

A few years ago, I would’ve said Stanton will get there; I would’ve said, without considering any X factors, that Mike Trout will, invariably, reach 500 homers. Because, at the time, there were no X factors to consider.

But eventually, that will became well.

Well, he’ll get there if he regains his health, if he recovers his power stroke, if he plays to 40, if he ups his batting average.

If, if, if.

Harper doesn’t have any X factors yet. Once they start cropping up, the projection becomes a little muddier. But, at its core, that’s really all this is right now. Pure projection.

He’s still 245 homers away; between now and 500, anything could happen. One freak injury might end it all. Albert Belle looked like a sure thing for 500 home runs. By 2000, he’d averaged 37 per season for a decade, and he was just 33 that year. But his hip became debilitatingly arthritic and he was forced to retire—with just 381 dingers—after that season.

With milestones, nothing is a given. With 500 home runs, that’s especially so.

So welcome to the club, Miguel Cabrera, enjoy your stay. Looks like you might be the new guy for a while.

Miguel Cabrera smashes his 500th home run.

Cabrera is the 28th member of the 500 home club. (Wikipedia).

He kept us waiting a little bit. In quick succession, a matter of a few games, he hit home runs 495, 496, 497 and 498. About a week later, 499 left the yard.

 500 was one swing away. One swing and Miguel Cabrera would join an elite club, whose membership numbers less than thirty, whose ranks include names like Aaron and Mays.

A game passed, then another, then another. It was August 11 that his last dinger soared over the fence. By August 18, his bat had gone cold. In the past week, he’d had just two hits.

Each day that passed without another homer intensified the anticipation tenfold. Each day without another homer was a letdown, adding to the crush of disappointment.

His bat woke up on August 19. Cabrera went 2-for-5 against the Angels that day, driving four runs in. But just as quickly as it had been jolted to alertness, it fell back asleep.

0-for 5 on the 20th. 0-for-3 on the 21st.

Then 1-for-5—with a home run—on the 22nd.

Steven Matz has allowed just two hits against Cabrera—both home runs. (Wikipedia).

After a ten-day span that felt like ten years, Cabrera finally clobbered number 500, a sixth inning solo shot off Blue Jays hurler Steven Matz, his first hit in 13 at-bats.

Twenty-seven sluggers had done it before him, and none since David Ortiz in 2015.

But the trek to 500 wasn’t easy. Not just the jump from 499 to 500, either—it took a while for Cabrera to get to the magic number at all.

One of the game’s premier stars early in his career, he debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and lit up the stage in 2004, earning his first of 11 All-Star selections. From that point through 2014, he averaged 34 home runs and 119 RBI per season. He won the Triple Crown in 2012. He took home two MVPs and five Silver Sluggers. Only twice he drove in less than 110 runs, and never less than 100; only twice he had less than 30 homers, and never less than 25.

By the end of his age-25 season, he had 175 home runs. Just triple that and he’d be at 500 by his mid-30s, with a few years to add to his total. At the end of his career’s first decade—he wasn’t even 30 yet—he already had more than 300 dingers. 321, to be exact. Just double that and he’d be up there with Griffey and Thome, and not even 40 years old.

Cabrera spent five years with the Marlins. (Wikipedia).

One of the game’s most reliable players during that 11-year stretch, Cabrera played no less than 148 games in any given season, averaging 157. But in 2015, he hurt his calf, played just 111 games, and slugged 18 home runs.

Sure, he was still an All-Star and he led the league in batting average, but it was a portent of worries to come.

A confluence of two distressing issues, one involving health and the other a sudden decline in power, contributed to Cabrera’s downfall. The latter started in 2014, when his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year before. The prior season, he had led the loop with a .636 mark; the next, it was .524.

But the problem went from inconvenient to concerning in 2017, when the number fell to .399. It hasn’t reached .450 since.

Then there’s health. Cabrera has had problems with his calf, his groin, his hamstring. In 2018, he missed most of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a bad biceps.

And as his power was failing and his body was falling apart, time kept marching forward. He kept getting older. More than anything else, it seems, age drags a player down hardest.  On April 18, 2021, he turned 38.

Cabrera’s ascension to the 500 home run club went from a no-brainer to a maybe.

In 2017, he hit 16 home runs to put him at 462—a good 2018, a Cabrera-esque 2018, would get him there. He hit 38 home runs as recently as 2016, a one-off rebound campaign.

He hit three home runs in 2018. 465 for his career; 35 away. A good 2019 would get him there. He’d hit 35 home runs five times in his career. It could be done.

He hit 12 home runs in 2019. 477 for his career. 23 away. Did he even have 23 left in the tank? Was he finished?

He hit 10 home runs in 2020. 487 for his career. 13 away. His contract was up after 2023; would the Tigers keep him that long?

His batting average declined each year from 2018 to 2020, from .299 to .250. As late as July 27 this year, it was in the .230s. Cabrera hadn’t just lost the ability to hit home runs, he couldn’t hit anymore, period.

It wasn’t only his power that suffered. About halfway through his career, he had over 1,800 base hits. At this point, he might be looking at 3,500 had he not faltered; he just recently passed 2,950.

But one swing made us forget all that.

When that 500th moonshot finally thundered off Cabrera’s bat on August 22, 2021, those struggles to get there, the questions and concerns and worries all went away.

Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers legend, the best player in Marlins history, now stands among the elite.

History won’t care how long it took him to join the club. The ghosts of Babe Ruth and Mel Ott don’t tut-tut because Cabrera took a winding path to their fraternity.

All that matters is he’s in the fraternity, today, now, in this moment—and forever.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 21, 2021.

Jacob deGrom’s injury woes, I fear, are just beginning. (Wikipedia).

Told you so: I recently did a piece predicting the downfall of Mets ace Jacob deGrom. He has all the makings of a pitcher who will decline soon and fall fast. Well, guess who just got transferred to the 60-day injured list with right forearm tightness? You guessed it: Jacob deGrom.

Not making it easy: Cardinals pitcher Jon Lester started the season just 7 wins away from 200 for his career. It’s been a tough road to the milestone, as he’s gone just 4-6 with a 5.46 ERA in 20 starts this year, putting him still 3 wins away. When (if?) he gets there, he’ll join Justin Verlander (226) and Zack Greinke (219) as the only two active pitchers with 200 or more victories. Max Scherzer is 15 away.

Maybe it’s not so bad: Ervin Santana has been one win away from 150 … since 2017!

Power on hold: Brewers outfielder Tyrone Taylor doesn’t hit for a high average and he strikes out a lot, but he is a nice player to have around. In the past month, he’s slugged .523 and on the year, he has 10 home runs in just 212 at-bats. Before 2019, his debut season, he was more of a speedster than a slugger, having never hit more than 9 homers in a minor league campaign, while stealing as many as 23 bags. But the Taylor power surge is on hold, for the time being at least, as he’s heading to the injured list with an oblique injury. He might be out a month.

Vesia’s turning heads: Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia impressed no one in his 2020 cup of coffee with the Marlins, posting an 18.69 ERA in 4 1/3 innings. That’s all water under the bridge now. In 28 innings this season, he’s struck out 37 batters and allowed just 9 hits, to the tune of a 2.57 ERA. Over the past month, he has a 0.71 ERA in 12 games; the Dodgers won 8 of those in which he appeared.

Gardner’s got it: Outfielder Brett Gardner hasn’t been too effective this year and has largely been a disappointment since his resurgent 2019, but he’s managed a tidy 5-for-18 line with 4 walks and just 2 strikeouts in his past few games. Every little bit helps as the Yankees vie for the wild card and, perhaps, first place in the AL East.

Watching White: As reported yesterday, pitcher Mitch White was demoted to the minor leagues to make roster space for Victor Gonzalez. Let’s see how long it takes for the Dodgers to regret that decision—he owns a 2.25 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24 Triple A innings this year. He might be back sooner than we think.

Despite his struggles, Aroldis Chapman is still one of the top closers in the game. (Wikipedia).

Milestone watch: Struggling Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is just one save away from 300. Only two other active hurlers have that many: Craig Kimbrel (371) and Kenley Jansen (338).

A nifty feat: Relievers Jake McGee and Andrew Miller each recently passed 600 career relief appearances. It’s an especially positive achievement for Miller—after being one of the game’s top relief pitchers from 2013 to 2017, he hasn’t had much to celebrate since. His ERA during his peak: 1.82. Since: 4.26.

K kings: Kyle Gibson and Craig Kimbrel each recently passed 1,000 career strikeouts. Kimbrel averages nearly 15 strikeouts per nine innings pitched; Gibson … half that. If Kimbrel pitched as many innings as Nolan Ryan, he’d have nearly 9,000 for his career!

Other milestones: Carlos Carrasco recently started his 200th career game, while Kenley Jansen recorded his 500th game finished. And, yeah, they keep track of these things: Max Scherzer faced his 10,000th batter.

I remember: Remember when Astros reliever Ken Giles punched himself in the face? And remember when Indians closer Chris Perez vomited on the mound?

Heath Hembree hopes to regain his footing in New York. (Wikipedia).

Mets claim Hembree: Now they’re getting desperate. The Mets claimed relief pitcher Heath Hembree off waivers from the Reds. Five years ago, this would have been a decent move, but the pitcher has a 6.38 ERA in 45 appearances this season, and, worse still, his mark was 9.00 in 22 games in 2020. Hembree was once a solid hurler, posting a 3.25 ERA and 138 ERA+ for the Red Sox from 2015 to 2017, but the Mets have a knack for signing relievers once their best seasons are past—see Dellin Betances, Trevor Hildenberger and Jacob Barnes this year as examples. The silver lining: Hembree’s been a strikeout ace, K-ing 68 batters in 42 1/3 innings—that’s 14.5 per 9 frames—in 2021.

A weird claim to fame: In 1993, Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Erik Plantenberg made 20 appearances—and threw only 9 2/3 innings. In fact, he holds the record for most games in a season with less than 10 frames tossed. He also holds the dubious record of having the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio of any post World War II pitcher (min. 20 appearances). He walked 12 batters and struck out only 3, for a K/BB ratio of 0.25. Before him, the last hurler to have a mark that bad was Walt Masterson in 1939. If you go back to 1927, you’ll find Ted Wingfield, who had 27 walks … to just 1 strikeout … in 74 2/3 innings!

Not a modern invention: From 1947 to 1952, there existed a minor league team in Enterprise, Ala. nicknamed the Boll Weevils. Actually, multiple clubs have shared that nickname: Kannapolis, N.C., Dothan, Ala., Temple, Texas and Graceville, Fla. each fielded a team so named. And you thought weird team nicknames were a product of the modern age (don’t get me started on the one from Canon City, Colorado).

They don’t sign like they used to: For the autograph collectors out there, let’s go back in time. In 2009, I received through-the-mail autographs from names like Billy Wagner, Adam Wainwright and Joey Votto. Granted, Votto might have been a secretarial signature, but the point remains the same: Nowadays, you can barely get anyone—let alone stars like that!

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 20, 2021.

Max Scherzer is a future Hall of Famer. (Wikipedia).

Scherzer 3000 K watch: It’s time to start the countdown to 3,000 Ks for Max Scherzer. He has 2,954 for his career and is just 46 away. Four great starts might get him there, which will all but lock in his Hall of Fame chances. Zack Greinke is getting close, too, but is still a year or two away.

Cabrera is aggravating: As we wait for Miguel Cabrera to finally mash home run number 500 (he’s been sitting at 499 since August 11), one must ask how much sooner he would have reached the mark, and where he would be now, if his offense—and health—hadn’t cratered in 2017. Same with 3,000 hits, he could have joined that pantheon of greats years ago, but he’s still nearly 50 away. He’s never fully recovered from his swoon and that’s aggravating. He’s becoming a what could have been player. Though he’s still going to be an all-time great, a Hall of Famer, he could have been a legend.

Watch DJ Peters: The rookie has struggled to a .175 average this year, but brighter days might be ahead. His average was unimpressive, but over the past week he’s slugged 3 home runs with 7 RBI. He hit as many as 29 homers in the minors.

Zavala watch: I mentioned White Sox catcher Seby Zavala yesterday and decided to check in again. He was 0-for-3 yesterday but has still been the club’s best catcher over the past month (4 HR, 13 RBI).

Mitch White earned the win in his most recent appearance. (Wikipedia).

White got the short end of the stick: To make roster space for pitcher Victor Gonzalez, the Dodgers demoted Mitch White to the minor leagues. Someone had to go, but it’s tough to see White—who’s posted a 3.06 ERA and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning this year—be the one … especially since he’s coming off a 2 hit, 6 strikeout, 7 1/3 inning performance.

Lopez is putting it all together: Reynaldo Lopez has been stellar for the White Sox this year, going 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 11 games (3 starts). In 25 innings he’s Ked 26 batters and allowed just 11 hits. Over the past month, his ERA is 0.90. It’s a small sample size, so it might not last, but still … not bad for a guy whose career mark was 4.77 before this year.

Betts—leadoff home run king? What are the odds of Mookie Betts eventually overtaking Rickey Henderson for most career leadoff home runs? He has 28 for his career and 6 this year. Henderson hit 81, so he’s still a bit off in the distance.

Todd Helton hit .316 with 369 home runs over 17 seasons. (Wikipedia).

Happy birthday Helton: It’s former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton’s birthday today. The greatest gift of all would be a belated one—an election to the Hall of Fame. It’s coming, Todd, just be patient.

Drake passes away: Outfielder Solly Drake, who spent two years in the majors in the 1950s, has died at 90 years old. He was a member of the World Series-winning 1959 Dodgers, which now has 11 surviving members. His brother, Sammy, played in the majors in the early ‘60s.

Yamamoto’s rehabbing: The Mets sent Jordan Yamamoto on a rehab assignment. Sorry, New York, Jordan’s not going to save your crashing season.

Sanit made it: Amaury Sanit, remember him? He pitched for the Yankees in 2011 and had to overcome all odds to get there. First, he defected from Cuba. Then he struggled his way through the Yankees farm system—and it was a struggle, as he posted a 6.35 ERA in 2010.  That year, he hurt his own cause by using performance enhancing drugs and earning a 50-game suspension. Such an event would be a career-ender for most minor leaguers his age. But he kept going, and in 2011, the 31-year-old reached the major leagues.

Ayce in the hole: Some parents are really big into using alternative spellings when naming their babies, and some love to use the letter y. Former Dodger Trayce Thompson’s brothers Klay and Mychel have NBA experience, as does their father, Mychal (note the slight difference in spelling). And remember brothers Laynce and Jayson Nix?