Albert Pujols has been in his decline phase for a couple of years now. Almost all Hall of Famers experience this, of course, and eventually we’ll sort of forget that it happened. For now, though, it’s having the odd effect of making us forget, at least somewhat, of how bad, bad a man he has been over the course of his 17-year big league career.
But you don’t get to the milestones Pujols is reaching these days without being a bad, bad man. Last night, for example, he hit his 599th career homer. He also went 2-for-4, which brings him to 2,873 hits for his career, tying him with Babe Ruth on the all-time list.
Topping 600 — he’ll be the ninth player to do so — may not take too long, either, as Pujols has been hot lately, having hit homers in back-to-back games and in three of his past five outings.
Barring injury, Pujols should pass Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome before the end of the season to reach seventh on the all-time list. Next year he’ll have a good shot to pass Ken Griffey, Jr. Given that he’s under contract through 2021, Willie Mays is within reach as well, even as he declines.
Clayton Kershaw had nothing left to prove when he exited the mound during his last Cactus League start on Friday. He finished camp with a 0.00 ERA, made all the more impressive after he extended his scoreless streak to 21 1/3 innings following 6 2/3 frames of one-hit ball against the Royals.
In six spring training starts this year, the Dodgers southpaw racked up 12 hits, four walks and 23 strikeouts. His velocity appeared to fluctuate between the high-80s and low-90s from start to start, but manager Dave Roberts told reporters that he expects Kershaw to get back up to the 93 m.p.h. range next week. Kershaw is tabbed for his eighth consecutive Opening Day start on Thursday.
The 30-year-old lefty is poised to enter his 11th season with the club in 2018. He went 18-4 in 27 starts last year and turned in a 2.31 ERA, 1.5 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 over 175 innings. He suffered his fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, including a lower back strain that required a five-week stay on the disabled list.
The Dodgers will open their season against the Giants on Thursday, March 29 at 7:08 PM ET. Given the sudden rash of injuries that hit the Giants’ rotation earlier today, Kershaw’s Opening Day opponent has not yet been announced.