March 21, 2011

2011 Milestone Preview: National League Central

It would be really, really easy to start this thing with the laundry list of accomplishments that are within reach for St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols.

That'll come later.

Did you know that with the retirement of Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox following the 2010 season, Pujols' manager Tony  La Russa became the longest tenured manager in Major League Baseball.  And then, this past February, when NBA head coach Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz retired, the Cardinals manager became the longest tenured bench boss among all the Big Four sports leagues.

Not bad for not even playing a game, right?

On that note…here’s your NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL.


CHICAGO CUBS

Last December, the Cubs lost their announcer and former third baseman Ron Santo.


Beginning in Spring Training and continuing throughout the season, the Northsiders will honor their biggest fan by wearing a patch on their jersey sleeve.  In addition to that, the Cubs will unveil a Ron Santo outside of Wrigley Field this August.

There are a lot of players closing in on 300 career home runs this season...and a number of them will get there.  But one guy who probably has the best chance of reaching the milestone (and will probably do so the quickest) is Cubs thirdbaseman Aramis Ramirez.  If he can stay healthy (and that's a big "IF")...Ramirez should easily get the eleven homers he needs by the All-Star break.

Former Cubs pitcher and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins has more wins (284) than any other Canadian-born pitcher.  The team's Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster starts 2011 fourth on that list with 102.  That said, he could very well be sitting second all-time pretty quick given the two guys ahead of him on the career list are Kirk McCaskill and Reggie Cleveland with 106.  He's got a long way to go to match Jenkins...but it is still a pretty cool accomplishment.

CINCINNATI REDS

The Reds shocked the baseball world in 2010 by finishing the season with 91 victories and their first playoff appearance in 15 years.


Should Cincinnati be able to duplicate that feat this season, manager Dusty Baker and his 1405 career victories will leapfrog four Hall of Famers (Al Lopez, Miller Huggins, Earl Weaver and Clark Griffith) and crack the top 20 all-time.

Out of the bullpen, Reds closer Francisco Cordero enters the season with 290 career saves.  Thankfully, the question isn't if the three-time All-Star can get to 300...it is how fast.

Lastly, veteran Scott Rolen is continuing what is a pretty nice career resurgence in Cincy.  Last season, he brought home his eighth Gold Glove and reached 300 home runs for his career.  He begins this year only 56 hits shy of 2000.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Down in Houston, the "Los Caballitos" are bound to go nuts when Carlos Lee gets those 33 hits and reaches the 2000 hit plateau.  And at just 34...it's entirely possible for dude to end his career way north of 400 home runs and 2500 hits.  Not too shabby for "El Caballo".

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Now that Trevor Hoffman has retired, the milestone focus has shifted from the all-time saves leader to face of the franchise...Prince Fielder.  With 192 career home runs, Fielder should get to 200 in a blink of an eye.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Coming into last season, I predicted that third-year skipper John Russell wasn't going to make it to his fourth year at the helm of the Pirates. 

Of course, that prediction was about as bold as saying that the sun will rise in the morning.

In April, while in the midst of a 22-game losing streak, the Pirates suffered their worst loss in franchise history...losing to the Milwaukee Brewers 20-0.  In August, they clinched their record 18th straight losing season in a row.  In a couple of weeks, Clint Hurdle takes over a team that, last season,  picked up the third most losses in franchise history...trailing only the 113-loss teams of 1890 and 1952.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Alright…this post could go one forever championing the upcoming milestones for one Albert Pujols.

But I'll make it brief.  Actually...that's an impossible task.

This season, "The Machine" will, potentially, reach the 2000 plateau by the All-Star Game...he's got 1900.  After avergaing more than 90 walks a season throughout his ten-year career, it's a no-brainer that the three-time MVP will get the 86 free passes he needs to reach 1000.

And if he repeats his 42 home runs from last year, he'll reach the 450 big-fly mark...and dude is just 31.

Now, assuming Pujols gets 30 or more home runs, 100 RBI and hits better than .300 (something he’s done in each of his ten seasons so far), he’ll not only be the only cat to start his career with eleven straight seasons with those numbers, but also…he’ll be the only player to have done it in eleven straight seasons.

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. In 2009, 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?

Thought so.

The American League West is up next. Feel free to go back and check out the American League East, American League Central or National League East.


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