MORE: A’s say they’re ready to seize October chancesSo here’s a look at five players who could hit significant round-number milestones in the month-and-a-half left of the 2019 season. Nelson Cruz, eight homers from 400Need to know: The odds were stacked against Cruz even sniffing the 400-homer milestone. He didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 25 years old, and he didn’t become a big league regular until his Age 28 season. By the time he turned 30 — he went 1-for-4 with a single on his birthday, btw — he only had 65 career home runs. Since that day, though? No player has hit more home runs than Cruz’s 327. And that post-30 total is 10th all-time in MLB history, behind luminaries Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and David Ortiz. He has 32 this season, his first with the Twins, a total that includes the first three-homer game of his career. The beginning: Let’s just say that Cruz’s first career home run was more significant to him than it was to his team. With his Rangers down 15-1 to the Twins on the final day of July 2006, Texas manager Buck Showalter called on Cruz to lead off the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter. Cruz worked the count full, then smacked a pitch from Willie Eyre over the fence for homer No. 1.Justin Verlander, 77 strikeouts from 3,000Need to know: Yep, notching 77 strikeouts down the stretch would be a mighty challenge, though it’s not completely impossible. Verlander should have seven more starts this season, eight if the Astros stick to a tight rotation chasing home-field advantage through the playoffs. And he does have 70 strikeouts in his past seven games. And with September callups flailing at Verlander’s nastiness, who knows, right? But, yeah, a long shot, no doubt. We have to take a moment to point out the right-hander’s Houston renaissance. In his final four full seasons with the Tigers, Verlander averaged 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings; in his time with Houston, that number has jumped to 12.1. Kind of incredible. The beginning: Verlander was 22 years old when he first stepped on a big league mound, for the second game of a double-header on July 4, 2005. The first batter he faced, Grady Sizemore, popped up. Coco Crisp then singled and stole second base on the rookie hurler. Undaunted (for the moment), Verlander offered up a 2-2 pitch that Travis Hafner — who was batting .313 and had hit two homers in the first game that day — swung at and missed. The next three batters reached safely, though, giving Cleveland a 3-0 lead, and the Indians had the bases loaded with two outs, threatening to blow the rookie out of his debut in the first inning. But Verlander got Alex Cora — yep, the current Red Sox manager who just picked Verlander to start the 2019 All-Star Game for the AL — to ground out to end the threat. Mike Trout, two stolen bases from 200Need to know: In his rookie season, 2012, Mike Trout stole 49 bases and hit 30 home runs. Know how many other players in MLB history have hit at least that many homers and stolen at least that many bases in the same season? Two. TWO! In 1987, Eric Davis had 37 homers and 50 stolen bases, and in 1990 Barry Bonds had 33 homers and 52 stolen bases. Trout was in his Age 20 season when he did that. Crazy. Trout actually has three seasons in his career when he had more stolen bases than home runs — 33 to 27 in 2013 and 30 to 29 in 2016. He hasn’t been as aggressive on the base paths this year (he has nine), but swiping two more shouldn’t be a challenge if he decides to get them. The beginning: Trout was a monster in 2012, but his first taste of the big leagues was a bit rough. He made his debut on July 8, 2011, but lasted just 14 games before he was sent back down to Double-A Arkansas after batting just .163 with one homer and one stolen base. The stolen base came at a big moment, though. Trout led off the ninth inning in Baltimore with the Angels ahead 2-1, and reached on an error by Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt, and after a walk to Maicer Izturis, Trout and Izturis pulled off a double steal as Torii Hunter struck out looking. After an intentional walk, Vernon Wells hit a grand slam to put the Angels comfortably ahead 6-1. Zack Greinke, one win from 200Need to know: The Royals had top-10 picks in the MLB Draft for four consecutive years from 1999 to 2002. Of the first three picks — Kyle Snyder at No. 7 in 1999, Mike Stodolka at No. 4 in 2000 and Colt Griffin at No. 9 in 2001 — only Snyder actually made the majors, and he had a career 5.57 ERA in only 93 big-league games. The fourth consecutive pitcher the Royals selected with a top-10 pick was, you guessed it, Zack Greinke, with the sixth overall pick in 2002 out of a Florida high school. That one turned out much better for the Royals (and Dodgers and Diamondbacks and Astros, eventually). Greinke flew through the minors and made his big league debut at just 20 years old. The beginning: Greinke had a 2.37 ERA through his first three career starts but didn’t earn a win (mostly because pitcher wins are a horribly flawed individual statistic and we’re only talking about this as an excuse to use a pic of BabyGreinke with this piece). In his fourth start, Greinke outdid himself. He retired the first 10 Expos he faced that day. Endy Chavez ended the perfecto bid with a one-out single in the fourth, and he reached again on a bunt single in the sixth. Other than that, Terrmel Sledge was the only other Montreal hitter to reach, on a fifth-inning single. The bullpen gave up two in the ninth, but Kansas City won 4-2, and Greinke’s final line was brilliant: 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts. Kenley Jansen, six saves from 300Need to know: Jansen, as you probably know, originally was a catcher when he signed with the Dodgers as an amateur free agent at 17 years old, in November 2005. He struggled at the plate, though. In 2007, his third season with the organization, he batted .207. In 2008, he hit .227 with nine homers in Single-A. In 2009, he was batting just .198, and a change was made.His rise from that point was incredibly quick. His first professional inning as a pitcher came for High-A Inland Empire on July 30, 2009 — he allowed one hit and struck out one in a scoreless inning of work. Less than a year later, he was in the big leagues as a reliever. The beginning: The Dodgers didn’t wait long to throw Jansen into the fire. He struck out two in his first inning of big league work on July 24, 2010, in the seventh inning of tie game against the Mets that the Dodgers eventually won 3-2 in 13 innings. The very next night, Clayton Kershaw shut down the Mets through eight innings and manager Joe Torre gave Jansen the ball to protect a 1-0 lead; closer Jon Broxton had pitched two innings the night before. No problem. He got Carlos Beltran to pop up, then struck out Jason Bay swinging on four pitches and put away Ike Davis — again, swinging — on a 3-2 pitch. Arbitrary or not, baseball fans have always had an affinity for round numbers, whether it’s 500 home runs or 3,000 strikeouts or 300 wins or a .300 batting average. Is a player with 504 homers (Eddie Murray) better than one with 493 homers (Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff) just because he passed the round number? Nah. Of course not. But, right or wrong, those round numbers mean something.
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