Just a year away

These players are poised to attain statistical glory in 2022

Wait till next year.

That’s the prevailing sentiment among the 18 big-league clubs who entered 2021’s final week without a realistic chance of qualifying for the playoffs. It’s also the dominant — and more hopeful — feeling shared by several players who are poised to make history.

Let’s concentrate on the second group today, the men who seem likely to reach significant statistical milestones in 2022. Below are 10 categories where we can expect action in the year ahead. (All numbers were relevant as of September 27.)

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1. Games played: Only nine players have appeared in more than 3,000 major-league games. Albert Pujols sits on the cusp of that charmed circle in 12th place with 2,968. The first baseman has been coy about possible retirement, though he has been nicely productive since coming to the Dodgers from the Angels in May. One more season would not only allow him to flip his odometer past 3,000 games, but to reach other significant records, too.

2. Plate appearances: Here’s a related indicator of longevity. Pujols is 315 appearances shy of 13,000, a threshold that has been attained by only five big leaguers.

3. Runs scored: Pujols has crossed the plate 1,871 times in his 21-year career. If he were to pick up another 79 runs — a total he has exceeded in 14 seasons — he would pass Stan Musial to reach the all-time top 10 in this category. Two younger players who are much farther down the list, Mike Trout of the Angels and Freddie Freeman of the Braves, are within striking distance of four figures. The injured Trout will enter 2022 with 967 runs; Freeman currently has 966.

4. Hits: This is one of the really big ones. The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is poised to join the 32 current members of the elite 3,000-hit club, though it’s unlikely he’ll open the door prior to next season. His present total is 2,984.

5. Home runs: Pujols is known to have a fervent wish to join Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, and Babe Ruth as the only batters to launch 700 home runs. He’s reasonably close with 679, but homers don’t come easily when you’re nearly 42 years old. Pujols has hit 17 this year in part-time duty, which would suggest that he might even have to return in 2023 to pursue his magic number. Would it be worth his while?

6. Runs batted in: There’s no real action near the top of this list, where Aaron reigns with 2,297 RBIs, but four present-day players have a decent chance of reaching four digits by the end of next season. Yadier Molina, the 39-year-old catcher for the Cardinals, has already announced that he will play one more year. But he might reach 1,000 RBIs without the extension, since he currently has 998. Others within striking distance: Freeman with 940, Andrew McCutchen of the Phillies with 929, and Paul Goldschmidt of the Cardinals with 926.

7. Games started: Only 48 big-league pitchers have started at least 500 games, a list topped by the immortal Cy Young with 815 starts. Zack Greinke of the Astros is likely to join the list next year, given his current total of 488 games started.

8. Wins: This category may be downplayed in the sabermetric age, though it still draws considerable interest. Nobody currently pitching seems likely to reach the elite milestone of 300 wins. (Justin Verlander is the active leader with 226.) But 200 still carry considerable prestige. Only 119 pitchers in a century and a half of big-league ball have managed to pile up that many victories. Ready to join them are a pair of Dodgers, Max Scherzer (190) and Clayton Kershaw (185), and possibly Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals (183). Wainwright has been highly effective this season, winning 16 games, but he also celebrated his 40th birthday last month. Does he have another 17 victories in him? Will he even return in 2022?

9. Saves: Craig Kimbrel had amassed 23 saves by late July for the Cubs, who then traded him to the other side of Chicago. The White Sox shifted him out of the closer’s role, which has hampered his pursuit of 400 saves, a milestone reached by only six relievers in major-league history. Kimbrel is currently stuck at 372. The Dodgers’ closer, Kenley Jansen, also has a shot at 400, since he now has 348 saves, including 36 this season.

10. Strikeouts: The elite target for strikeouts is 3,000, a goal most recently reached by Verlander in late 2019 and Scherzer earlier this month. Who’s next? Nobody is imminent, though Greinke sits reasonably close with 2,806 strikeouts, followed by Kershaw at 2,669. Both appear more likely to reach 3,000 not in 2022, but in 2023, which seems a long, long way away.

Let’s revisit that latter point 12 months from now, shall we?