Many on the brink of milestones in 2008

Many on the brink of milestones

We now return to our regularly scheduled milestone programming.

The 2007 season? Just remember it as a perfect storm, a positioning of the statistical stars that probably never occurs again in the average fan's lifetime. Nothing remotely similar had happened before. It was the year of one major milestone after another, so steady that on one day a player hit his 500th career home run (Frank Thomas) and then hours later a player collected his 3,000th hit (Craig Biggio).

But now it is time again for Major League Baseball to turn the page as the national pastime does so naturally well. Will 2008 be anything like 2007? In terms of milestones, probably not. That was a freak of nature. But it will not exactly be desolation, either.

It actually looks like a pretty decent year for milestone trackers. It could even be another blockbuster if some seemingly unlikely things happen with three familiar names: Barry Bonds returns and hits one grand slam to make it exactly 2,000 RBIs; Roger Clemens returns and becomes the 13th pitcher to reach 5,000 innings; and Randy Johnson comes back from injury to win 16 games and celebrate his 300th victory.

Let's start with the milestones that seem likelier. The rest will play itself out.

Pedro Martinez struck out his 3,000th batter last year. John Smoltz will do that with the 25th batter he rings up for Atlanta in 2008.

Last year, the first major milestone happened when Sammy Sosa became the fifth player to reach 600 home runs in a career. In 2008, Ken Griffey Jr. could put up the first notable milestone by becoming the sixth slugger to do that. Griffey, who turned 38 this offseason, goes into another Reds season with 593 knocks.

The bigger question concerning Griffey is whether he can join Biggio in that 3,000-hit club. Griffey has 2,558 hits. Fortunately for his club and his fans, the perennial All-Star outfielder played in 144 games last season -- the first time since his first year in Cincinnati (2000) that he played in more than 128. If he can remain healthy and average close to 150 hits a season, then Griffey should reach that milestone with another few seasons. And there always is the possibility of him finishing his career back in his original American League as a designated hitter, so one easily can envision him joining Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only members of the 600-homer, 3,000-hit club.

Some milestones in store for 2008
Hitter
Team
Milestone
To go
Ken Griffey Jr.Reds600 HRs7 HRs
Manny RamirezRed Sox500 HRs10 HRs
Gary SheffieldTigers500 HRs20 HRs
Albert PujolsCardinals300 HRs18 HRs
Derek JeterYankees2,500 hits144 hits

Pitcher
Team
Milestone
To go
John SmoltzBraves3,000 Ks25 Ks
Greg MadduxPadres350 wins3 wins
Randy JohnsonD-backs300 wins16 wins
Johan SantanaMets100 wins7 wins
Jason IsringhausenCardinals300 SVs19 SVs

Bonds could be there before him, but that's another matter to be addressed later in this story.

A big reason for that milestone madness in 2007 was the sight of three players reaching 500 homers. Thomas led the way on that unforgettable day, going yard for Toronto, followed by Biggio's big five-hit night for 3,000-plus in Houston. The Big Hurt was followed into the 500 Club by Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees (now already up to 518 and zooming fast) and Jim Thome of the White Sox (winning a game for added emphasis). It was a beautiful trifecta, but 2008 may not be a big drop-off.

Boston's Manny Ramirez has 490 homers, and he might get to 500 before Griffey gets to 600. Lurking at 480 is Detroit's Gary Sheffield, who never has hit fewer than 20 homers in a reasonably full season during his entire career. Last year, Sheffield went deep 25 times over 133 games, and having Miguel Cabrera in the lineup now won't hurt him.

Quickly switch over to pitching, because on the mound, 2008 could become an outstanding year for milestones following a season in the shadows:

One of the major moments last season was Tom Glavine's 300th career victory. Do you think Randy Johnson is capable of winning 16 games for Arizona? Yes, he won only four last year and is now age 44. But here were his season victory totals in the three previous seasons: 16 (2004), 17 (2005) and 17 (2006). It certainly is not out of the question, and he pitches for a reigning division champ. It's up to his health.

If Clemens comes back yet again, then he could climb into the top five in all-time victories. He is the active leader with 354 and would be in position to pass Kid Nichols (seventh with 361), Warren Spahn (sixth, 364) and Jim Galvin (fifth, 366). And for one of those magical round numbers, don't forget that Clemens has 4,916 2/3 innings under his belt -- so he could reach a very exclusive 5,000-innings club. To get there, Clemens would first pass Bobby Matthews (4,956 1/3) and Bert Blyleven (4,970 1/3) before coming upon No. 12 Tim Keefe (5,050 innings).

Greg Maddux might be there this season as well. He has pitched 4,814 1/3 innings. Does he have another 185 2/3 up his sleeve in 2008?

Of course, there are big questions swirling around Clemens these days in the wake of the Mitchell Report. If it matters, Clemens stormed out of that news conference in Houston recently and huffed that he couldn't wait to be away from the limelight. And that brings us to Bonds, who is on the brink of dizzying milestones.

Opening Day
Countdown to Opening Day
•   March 23: Turnaround tales to be told
•   March 23: Rule 5 decisions loom
•   March 24: Free agents on the spot
•   March 25: Breakout players in 2008
•   March 25: Comeback candidates
•   March 26: Top storylines for '08
•   March 26: Top AL rookie candidates
•   March 26: Top NL rookie candidates
•   March 27: AL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: NL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: Breaking down '08 slate
•   March 27: Century since Cubs' title
•   March 28: Top AL MVP candidates
•   March 28: Top NL MVP candidates
•   March 29: Changing of guard at short
•   March 30: Predictions for '08
•   March 30: '08 milestones
•   March 30: Season preview

The odds seem to be against him having a chance to achieve any of them. Bonds has been indicted by the federal government for charges of perjury during the BALCO investigation. A team could take a flyer on him, perhaps a club in contention down the stretch -- with the knowledge that Bonds' trial will not be until after the 2008 season. Bonds turns 44 on July 24. If he does return for another season, then here is the amazing historical significance in front of him:

• Home runs: He could be the first to reach 800. He has 762, the most in Major League history. Will he get a chance for more?

• RBI: He has 1,996, one more than Lou Gehrig. The only others with at least 2,000 are Aaron (2,297), Ruth (2,217) and Cap Anson (2,076).

• Hits: He has 2,935. The Giants have said their goodbyes to Bonds, and ironically the active player who ranks closest to him is another veteran Giant. Omar Vizquel, who turns 41 on April 24, will enter 2008 with 2,598 hits. That's a legit shot at 3,000 unless age hits him in a hurry.

• Runs: He has 2,227. Will he have a chance to pass Ty Cobb for second all-time at 2,246? And how about career leader Rickey Henderson at 2,296?

• Games: He has 2,986. If someone lets him play 114 games, he passes Cal Ripken and becomes the eighth player to 3,000 games.

• At-bats: He has 9,847. He would crack the top 25 if he can reach 10,000.

You get the idea. Clubs don't seem to be clamoring to bring Bonds back for a 23rd season, but this is not the old days of two eight-team leagues. There are 30 Major League clubs. And never has there been greater competitive balance than fans are seeing these days. Would you really be shocked if someone gives it a shot? That's also a whole lot of monster milestones to market.

While there is much doubt over Bonds getting his 10,000th AB, there is little doubt that Torii Hunter will get his 5,000th. He needs just eight at-bats as a new member of the Angels to do that. Jorge Posada has 4,814 ABs, all with the Yankees.

The Cooperstown countdown is on for Posada's teammate, Derek Jeter. The Yankees captain, in fact, might actually be the next to 3,000 hits before anyone else. He goes into the season with 2,356 hits. He has at least 200 hits in each of his last three seasons, and if he duplicates that stretch, he's basically there. He will turn 34 on June 26, but no erosion is apparent yet. If he picks up hit No. 144 sometime around the start of August, that will put him at 2,500 and more and more attention will go toward this chase.

Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones are separated now, the former still in Atlanta and the latter now with the Dodgers. But they are still joined at the hip in some ways, such as their 2008 countdown to 400 homers. Chipper, 35, needs just 14 to get there; Andruw, 30, needs 32. Who knows -- maybe they will get there at the same time.

Remember when Trevor Hoffman passed Lee Smith to become the all-time saves leader? Yankees closer Mariano Rivera this season could become the second person to pass those 479 saves recorded by Smith. Rivera has 443 saves.

Detroit's Pudge Rodriguez needs just five hits for 2,500. Based on his last three years with the Tigers, Rodriguez, 36, also could be in the 3,000 hit club within three or four years if his skills don't erode badly. His teammate, Sheffield, has 2,521 hits. If you are detecting a trend in this story, it is probably the fact that an abundance of 3,000-hit-club members could be added by early in the next decade depending on Father Time. And A-Rod, now with 2,250 and only age 32, could be one of them.

No examination of upcoming milestones in a season is complete without mentioning where Albert Pujols is headed. He keeps extending his own record of consecutive years at the start of a career with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. So far, it is a spectacular seven of them, resulting in 282 homers and 861 RBIs. Throw in a .332 career batting average, and the Cardinals superstar is a milestone all unto himself.

Overall, it is hard to imagine that the 2008 season can touch what just happened last year in the quantity of magical milestones. It was just one after another in 2007, highlighted by those two biggies on the very same day. It might be back to reality this summer for the most part, but looking at the projections before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, don't be surprised if this year ranks as a big one in its own right.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.