A funny thing happens every year in the middle of March…65 college teams tip off their tournament believing that “this is the year” and before even a pitch is thrown, one baseball team is already proclaiming that they’re going to “wait ‘til next year”.
Why is there such blind optimism among the college ranks (I’m specifically looking your way Northern Iowa and Cornell) and pessimism among the pros?
Could it be the pressures to succeed, the folly of youth or the fact that the Cubs have to square off against Albert Pujols fifteen times this season?
As you ponder that…here’s your NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL.
Last season, Chicago's Central division rival Houston Astros had three players top 300 home runs for their career. This year, the Cubs are in the same position by having Derrek Lee (293), Alfonso Soriano (290) and Aramis Ramirez (264) all within shouting distance of the milestone.
Ramirez is the longshot given the shoulder injury that plagued him for most of 2009, but at only 31…it is worth mentioning that only the afore mentioned Pujols and Adam Dunn are younger and have hit more.
In the dugout, skipper Lou Pinella is 16 wins away from becoming only the fourteenth manager with more than 1800 victories. And of the ten Hall-eligible managers ahead of him on the list, only one (Gene Mauch) is not enshrined in Cooperstown.
For a lot of teams, it takes a former player getting voted into the Hall of Fame to get their number retired. One look at their foul poles and you’ll realize, that, for the Cubs…they have no such policy.
That being said, would it be too much to ask that the Cubs FINALLY hoist Andre Dawson’s number 8 up alongside the six former Cubs that have their numbers retired.
I realize that the guy isn’t going into the Hall as a member of the “Loveable Losers” (you can read the reasons why he should HERE), but that wasn’t his choice. The Northside loves the Hawk and he loves the Northside…retire his number.
20 years ago, the Reds sweep the heavily favored Oakland A’s in the World Series. In the years since, they’ve made one playoff appearance and have finished at .500 or better only three times.
Unfortunately this season isn’t appearing to look at brighter.
Provided he can stay healthy (easier said than done), Scott Rolen is 17 home runs away from 300. Sure the third baseman’s best years are behind him, but 17 home runs is not out of the picture.
If you look close enough when Houston takes the field this season, you’ll notice a patch commemorating the team’s 45 years as the Astros. Their moniker prior to becoming the ‘stros…the Colt .45s?
About the only milestone Houston has going for it is Roy Oswalt’s countdown to 300 wins. With 13 more…he’ll be half way there!
Quietly, reliever Trevor Hoffman is still out there putting up great numbers. After being left for dead following the 2008 season (really San Diego…releasing Hoffman by fax?), the future first ballot Hall of Famer took to the hill in Milwaukee and put together one of his top four or five seasons.
A couple of years ago, Hoffman became the first closer to reach 500 saves. By the time the rest of us celebrate Memorial Day, he’ll have already become the first to 600.
After taking 2009 off, outfielder Jim Edmonds is competing for a job with the Brewers. Should the eight-time Gold Glove winner make his way north to Milwaukee, he’ll add to his 382 home runs.
Now, I’m not suggesting that 400 home runs is the new 500 (let’s face it, 600 is going to be)…but 400 home runs IS important. With 18 homers, Edmonds will be sitting at 46th all-time, having jumped over such notable as Johnny Bench (389), Dale Murphy (398) and Al Kaline (399) in the process
In this, their tenth year at PNC Park, the Pirates will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bill Mazeroski’s game winning home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series by unveiling a statue outside their ballpark.
After that, the only thing Bucs fans have to cheer about is the possibility of their teams breaking their already record streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons.
Unfortunately, that is about as likely as third-year skipper John Russell making it to his fourth year at the helm of the Pirates.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
St. Louis has turned into one of those teams where all of their potential milestones could get overlooked because of the achievements of one man.
So before we get lost in the majesty that is Albert Pujols…let’s look at the only other Redbirds worth mentioning.
Skipper Tony LaRussa is first among all active managers with 2552 victories. All-time, he’s third…211 behind John McGraw.
Alright…so, here’s what we can look forward to from Pujols this season.
“Prince Albert” starts 2010 with 366 home runs. Should he get those 34 and reach 400 by the end of this season, he’ll be the youngest National Leaguer to reach the milestone (30 years old) and second youngest overall after Alex Rodriguez who was a couple of months shy of his 30th birthday when he belted his.
Now, assuming Pujols gets 30 or more home runs, 100 RBI and hits better than .300 (something he’s done in each of his nine seasons so far), he’ll not only be the only cat to start his career with ten straight seasons with those numbers, but also…he’ll be the only player to have done it in ten straight seasons in a row.
Should he get 40 or more home runs and 40 or more doubles this season, it’ll be a record fourth time he achieved the feat. Last season, he tied Lou Gehrig as the only player to have done it three times.
And should Pujols do all the above and take home another National League MVP award, he’ll be only one of two players (Barry Bonds has seven) to be named his league’s best more than three times.
It’s safe to call this guy the best in the game, right?
The American League Central is up next. Feel free to go back and check out the American League East HERE.