Pitchers and catchers report about a month from now, so the time to ponder the 2011 season is upon us.
Sure, the baseball season mostly is about the pennant races, but each year also offers us a number of individual milestones to follow. So which exclusive clubs will be joined and which records will totter and fall? Here are 10 milestones that just might be reached during 2011 . . .
10. Jim Leyland and 1,500 wins
Will Leyland one day make the Hall of Fame? He’s led three organizations to the postseason and won a pennant in Detroit and a World Series in Florida. Leyland needs just seven victories to reach 1,500 and has a shot at passing Dick Williams for 18th on the career wins list. And if the Tigers somehow manage to win 94 or more games, then Leyland will push his career record back up to and beyond the .500 mark. (Entirely a function of those rebuilding years in Pittsburgh, which apparently still are going on.)
9. Matt Stairs and most teams played for
Pinch-hitting everyman Matt Stairs recently signed a nonguaranteed contract with the Nationals. If he breaks camp on the 25-man roster, then he’ll be suiting up for his 13th franchise. That means he’ll break the record he shares with Mike Morgan. In related news, Stairs is awesome and unable to fit his résumé onto one page.
8. Chipper Jones and a whole bunch of stuff
A whole boatload of milestones is within reach: 1,500 RBI (needs nine); 2,500 hits (needs 10); 500 doubles (needs seven); and 1,500 walks (needs 96 . . . unlikely but possible). Just 19 players have achieved all of that in their careers plus 1,500 runs scored, which Chipper eclipsed last season. The only ones on that list not in the Hall of Fame? Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez.
7. Andy Pettitte and 250 wins
It’s not certain whether Pettitte will pitch again. If he does, then he’ll need just 10 wins to reach 250. He’d have plenty of run support in the Bronx, and only once in his 16-year career has Pettitte failed to win 10 games in a season.
6. Ichiro and most times leading the majors in hits
The modern-day Wee Willie Keeler has to his credit a pair of batting titles, and seven times he’s led baseball in hits. And if Ichiro Suzuki pulls it off again, he’ll break the record he shares with Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Ichiro also will be looking to break the record he co-owns with Rose for most 200-hit seasons (10). That’s not all: Ichiro also will seek to extend the records he holds for most consecutive times leading the majors in hits (5) and most consecutive 200-hit seasons (10). Breaking news: Ichiro is good at hitting baseballs.
5. Mariano Rivera and 600 saves
Last season, Trevor Hoffman became the first player to save 600 games. Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of ever, has a chance to join him this season. For that to happen, Rivera will need to equal his age in saves (41). His skills are intact, and the Yankees figure to provide him with plenty of opportunities. This one could be a photo finish.
4. Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and 400 home runs
Some of the shine has come off the 400-homer club in recent years, but it’s not often you find two guys on the same team who might hit No. 400 in the same season. Konerko needs 35 spanks, so he’ll need to be healthy and in vintage form if he’s to get it done in 2011. The same goes for Dunn, who needs to tie his career high of 46. Given the homer-friendly nature of U.S. Cellular, it’s possible Dunn gets there. If they have any sense of the moment, they’ll each hit No. 400 in the same game . . .
3. Alex Rodriguez and the career home run list
A-Rod has something better than a puncher’s chance at a few home run marks in 2011. First, with just 18 more homers, he’ll pass Ken Griffey Jr. and move into fifth on the career list. If he really goes off and hits 48 or more, then he’ll pass Willie Mays. However, A-Rod’s present trajectory makes that unlikely. Elsewhere, Rodriguez can pass Barry Bonds for most consecutive 30-homer seasons (they’re tied with 12 each), and in the process would tie Hank Aaron for most 30-homer seasons (Aaron did it 15 times).
2. Jim Thome and 600 home runs
Thome is coming off a quietly excellent campaign and finds himself just 11 bombs shy of 600. Thome’s not certain who he’ll be suiting up for in 2011, but whoever inks him almost will certainly see him become just the eighth player to reach the hallowed mark.
1. Derek Jeter and 3,000 hits
Those acrimonious contract negotiations soon will be forgotten because the captain needs just 74 hits to get to 3,000. Barring serious injury, Jeter easily will reach this milestone in 2011. Jeter already is the active hits leader and — again, barring injury — he’ll crack the top 20 of all time at some point before the All-Star break.