A quick look at the achievements we’ll be tracking over the next 3 1/2
- Barry Bonds: Bonds needs 12 home runs to break the single-season
record of 70. The Giants have 22 team games left, and it’s safe to assume
that Bonds will be playing in every one until the Giants’ fate is
determined, and all of the ones that follow until he breaks, or cannot
reasonably break, Mark McGwire‘s record.
Bonds is currently hitting home runs at a pace of one every 6.9 at-bats. If
he were to maintain that, he would need another 82 at-bats to break the
record, an average of 3.5 per Giant game. Bonds isn’t coming close to that
right now, being walked so often that he’s averaging about three at-bats per
game. He’s either going to have to up his pace, or get more at-bats. The
former is possible–witness Bonds’s June, or McGwire’s finishing kick in
1998–but the latter is probably impossible.
I made the point earlier this season that
problem Bonds would have is getting enough at-bats to break the home-run record,
and that point stands. Remember that in 1998, McGwire’s Cardinals were out of
contention in September, and there was considerable pressure on the opposition
to pitch to him. McGwire’s walk rate and intentional-walk rate in September were
far below his season rates. Having perhaps the best season of any National
League player in history, McGwire was intentionally walked just once
in September. Bonds has already received two intentional passes this month,
and there are many, many more to come.
If anything, I expect Bonds to walk more this month than he has prior to it.
The Giants play 12 of their final 19 games against teams in the hunt for
playoff spots. The other seven are against divisional foes who can be
expected to take the games’ importance in the race seriously. Bonds will be
hard-pressed to get 70 at-bats the rest of the way, which will be the death
knell for his chances.
A consolation prize is that this effect means Bonds is a lock to break the
single-season walks record of 170, held by Babe Ruth. He needs just
28 bases on balls to break that, and has averaged about 1.2 walks per game
since May 1. I think that unless the Giants determine their fate in the next
two weeks, Bonds will fly past 170 and end up with close to 180 walks on the
Bonds is also going to set a handful of NL records, led by highest
single-season slugging percentage, and a host of sabermetric marks,
including most isolated power, and highest adjusted OPS. It’s a truly
remarkable season, only clearly surpassed by Ruth’s 1920 and 1921 campaigns.
- Randy Johnson: Johnson needs 58 strikeouts to break Nolan
Ryan‘s single-season mark of 383. Like Bonds, Johnson is going to be in
a race the rest of the way; unlike Bonds, this helps Johnson, who isn’t
likely to lose starts as the D’backs play out the string or set up a playoff
Johnson will get five more starts this season, and may get six depending on
what the D’backs do as the month progresses. At his current rates, five
starts would leave him just shy of 383, while six would push him over. He is
close enough to the record that one particularly high-strikeout or
low-strikeout outing dramatically alters the picture, so I think this one
will go down to the wire.
- Seattle Mariners: The Mariners, at 100-40, need to finish 17-5 to
break the 1906 Cubs record for wins in a season, and 15-7 to catch the 1998
Yankees for the AL record. I don’t think they’re going to do either.
This isn’t a knock on the Mariners, who have had an amazing season and will
end up somewhere between 108 and 112 wins. It is an acknowledgement that the
AL West is one of the toughest divisions in baseball now, and probably the
one most improved from the beginning of the season. The A’s may be the
second-best team in the game, the Rangers have been a good team since the
All-Star break, and the Angels’ pitching has been a quiet strength all year.
The Mariners play their last 18 games against this group, and it’s not
likely that they’ll rip off 14 wins in that stretch, which is the way they
opened the year.
There’s also the reality that the Mariners have more on which to focus. As
the 1998 Yankees showed, even a team with a big lead will continue to play
its best players most of the time, but there will be a greater emphasis on
preparing for October, particularly over the last two weeks. This, along
with a reasonably tough schedule, will probably keep the Mariners from
breaking any records.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by