While we’re counting the Omer we’ll also be counting Alex Rodriguez’s homers. When the Yankees third baseman hits his 17th home run this season, it will be the 600th of his career. A-Rod, who’ll be 35 in July, is a good bet to hit 800 career home runs – a number never yet reached by anyone – before he retires.
Albert Pujols was 34 homers shy of reaching number 400 when the season started. The Cardinals first baseman is 30 and may top A-Rod’s career homers before he’s through.
In the pitching department, Milwaukee reliever Trevor Hoffman, 42, started the season nine saves shy of 600. That’s a mark that may never be reached by any other pitcher. Mariano Rivera, for example, started 2010 at 526 career saves. The Yankees closer is 40 and has a good shot at 600 saves but Hoffman is still adding to the numbers that could cement his spot as baseball’s all-time saves leader.
Speaking of aging pitchers and consistency, Phillies lefthander Jamie Moyer is the big story. He’s 47 years old. That’s right, 47. Moyer is in his 24th big league season; his numbers are 258-195 with a 4.22 ERA. Certainly not Hall of Fame caliber, but good enough to have kept Moyer in the majors for two and a half decades.
How good will Roy Halladay be with the Phillies? While with Toronto in the American League he faced the Yankees, Red Sox, Tampa Bay and several other solid hitting teams. With the Phils in the National League, Halladay will face weaker hitting as the NL doesn’t have the designated hitter rule and the pitcher bats for himself (unless, of course, the manager inserts a pinch hitter resulting in that pitcher’s removal from the game).
The fact that the National and American leagues operate with different rules is ridiculous, but that’s for another column. Aging hitters add on a couple of years to their career as designated hitters, but I like the strategy and the additional decisions managers have to make in the NL.
Speaking of hitters, can Ryan Braun (.320, 32 homers, 114 RBI last year) and Prince Fielder (.299, 46, 141) equal or better their numbers this year? Can Mark Reynolds do it again? He’s the biggest star most people don’t know about. The third baseman of the Arizona Diamondbacks was the only big-league player last year to top 40 homers (44), 100 RBI (102), and 20 stolen bases (24).
While Houston is expected to finish close to the bottom of the NL Central, I’ll be following the Astros’ interesting outfield. Center fielder Michael Bourn led the league with 61 stolen bases while batting .285 in ’09, and the defensive whiz won a Gold Glove.
Braun hit only three home runs but power comes from the outfield corners. Right fielder Hunter Pence hit 25 home runs while batting .282 last year and veteran left fielder Carlos Lee had his usual steady year (.300, 26,102). In his three years with the Astros, Lee has slugged 86 homers and knocked in 321 runs while batting .305.
Derek Jeter has hit over .300 for five consecutive seasons and carried a .317 lifetime average when the season – his 16th with the Yankees – began. In all probability, he’ll reach 3,000 career hits next season. Jorge Posada will be 39 in August, pretty old for a catcher. Posada put up good numbers last year in only 313 at bats (.285, 22, 81). While it would be difficult for a team to come up with a catcher to match Posada, the Yanks have some good catching prospects you’ll be hearing about in Jesus Montero and Austin Romine.
While Jeter is in a class by himself, Troy Tulowitzki should outdo him over the next 10 years. Only 25, the all-star shortstop of the Colorado Rockies is superb in all departments. The defensive whiz batted .297, blasted 32 homers and swiped 20 bases last year. Another member of the Rockies who performs under the radar is Todd Helton. The left-handed batting 36-year-old first baseman hit .325 in ’09, has a .328 career average and will continue adding to his 2,000-plus hits and 300-plus homers as he quietly puts together a Hall of Fame career.
Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward has been billed as a combination Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. Heyward hits for average and power and it will be interesting to follow the rookie who turns 21 in August. Veteran Chipper Jones hit only 18 home runs for the Braves last season. It was the first time Jones, 38, dipped under 20 in a season and his .264 average was 43 points under his career mark.
Matt Holliday was hitting .286 for Oakland last July 24 when he was traded to St. Louis and went on to bat .353 in 63 games for the Cardinals. While Holliday and Pujols put up big numbers, Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker is becoming quite a player. The 25-year-old left-handed batter topped .300 the past two seasons. Another player still under the radar is Brandon Phillips of the Reds. Last season he batted a steady .276 for Cincinnati with 30 doubles, 20 homers, 98 RBI and 25 stolen bases.
While we know that 27-year-old Twins catcher Joe Mauer is ticketed for the Hall of Fame, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is quickly establishing himself. Wieters hit .303 in 39 games for Triple-A Norfolk last year before being promoted and batting .288 for Baltimore in 96 games. He started slow with the Orioles but got better as the season wore on, hitting .350 in his final 27 games in ’09.
George Will, the all-around maven on everything from politics to baseball and a long-suffering Cubs fan, joked on a Detroit radio station that “the Cubs are three Cardinals injuries away from winning the division. Of course, the injuries have to be to the Cardinals’ top two pitchers and Albert Pujols.”
Will, while of course not hoping for any Cardinals injuries, would love to see the Cubs win a World Series in his lifetime. The last time the Cubbies did so was 102 years ago, in 1908, when they beat the Tigers of Ty Cobb.
The Cubs have a new owner this year and when manager Lou Piniella is replaced down the road, look for former Cubs star Ryne Sandberg to take over. The former second baseman knows the young talent in the system; he managed in Double-A last year and is skippering the Triple-A Iowa Cubs this season.
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring as a department head in a major league front office. Cohen, whose column appears the second week of each month, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul and may be reached in his dugout at firstname.lastname@example.org.Irwin Cohen