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Power Rankings — Big tests coming for April’s hot starters

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Just one more week into the season, we’re starting to see some stronger teams emerge. But we’re also ready to crown a new No. 1, as the Astros rode their nine-game win streak to the top of rankings, earning three first-place votes to replace the Dodgers at the top slot. But that was just the start of some major reshuffling by our voters.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Indians fell from the top 10, or that the Cardinals might move in. The biggest surprise is that the Dodgers and Phillies were so quickly crowded out of the top two spots. As a result, we have three new teams in the top five, as the Astros and Rays moved into the top two rungs, and the Mariners moved up to No. 5.

The Astros’ jump up to claim the top slot may have been the most impressive gain of the week since they’re now on top, but the Cardinals and Reds made even bigger gains over Week 1, advancing seven spots apiece. And can the teams that declined rally? The Red Sox, our No. 1 team on Opening Day, slipped down to No. 12, while the injury-wracked Yankees almost fell from the top 10. The biggest drops were suffered by the Rockies (nine spots).

The challenge for the week to come is how well the hot teams can consolidate their gains. This early, you’re going to see some big swings in the rankings — anyone remember last year’s Mets? But last year also showed us how teams such as the Rays and A’s can rise high late in the season. Which teams will make this week’s results stick?

For Week 2, our panel of voters comprised Bradford Doolittle, Christina Kahrl, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian and David Schoenfield.

Previous: Preseason | Week 1

2019 record: 11-5
Week 1 ranking: 7

This week’s matchups: 2 games at Oakland, 3 at Texas
What to watch: Houston will head into Tuesday night’s game against the A’s riding a nine-game win streak after consecutive sweeps of the A’s, Yankees and Mariners. Like their 42-16 start in 2017, this is the kind of run that could put away the AL West race by June — if they can keep it going. And keep an eye on Jose Altuve. After homering in five straight games last week, he saw his bid to tie the team record of six straight come up short. But who says the former MVP won’t keep raking?


2019 record: 12-4
Week 1 ranking: 5

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Baltimore, 3 vs. Boston
What to watch: Friday’s series opener against Boston potentially pits Blake Snell and Rick Porcello in a showdown between former Cy Young winners. Austin Meadows is enjoying a breakout season after six early-season homers and 17 RBIs, reminding people why he was once a top Pirates prospect. Watch for Joey Wendle too; the Rays’ best position player via WAR last year is expected back from the IL.


2019 record: 10-6
Week 1 ranking: 3

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. St. Louis, 4 vs. L.A. Dodgers
What to watch: It’s a tough week on the schedule, but it’s also an opportunity to climb higher. Winning last weekend’s series against the Dodgers was nice, but next weekend both teams return to the site of the Brewers’ National League Championship Series Game 7 loss to L.A. And you know you want to see if Christian Yelich can continue his career ownage of Clayton Kershaw now that the Dodgers ace is back in action. Yelich has two homers and a 1.240 OPS in 23 plate appearances, but he also has seven strikeouts.


2019 record: 9-6
Week 1 ranking: 4

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Philadelphia, 3 at St. Louis
What to watch: While some might wonder if Pete Alonso can keep up his early-season hitting exploits, fantasy fans already know this should be a two-start week for Noah Syndergaard, with turns on Monday night and next weekend. So far, Thor is throwing his fastball more often than he has since 2015, with velocity sitting at about 98 mph, while generating an eye-popping 20:2 ratio of strikeouts to walks in his first three starts. Hitters are managing an exit velocity of just 83.9 mph against him, tied for second-lowest in baseball.


2019 record: 13-5
Week 1 ranking: 10

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Cleveland, 4 at L.A. Angels
What to watch: Suffering a sweep at the hands of the Astros may have reminded Seattle who the big dogs of the AL West are, but the Mariners’ surprising hot start is creating new heroes on the national stage. Start with Marco Gonzales, still 4-0 despite Seattle’s loss in his last start. Also, what has gotten into Daniel Vogelbach? The beefy backup 1B/DH has ripped 10 extra-base hits, six of them home runs in just 12 games, slugging .973.


2019 record: 9-8
Week 1 ranking: 1

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Cincinnati, 4 at Milwaukee
What to watch: Welcome back the Dodgers’ inconsistency that bedeviled them in years past. Their six-game losing streak they finally snapped Sunday was their longest since they tumbled 11 straight times in 2017. But now that Clayton Kershaw is due back from the IL to pitch Monday night, L.A. might be able to flip the script and reel off a winning streak.


2019 record: 9-6
Week 1 ranking: 14

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Milwaukee, 3 vs. N.Y. Mets
What to watch: It’s early, but the slight improvement Marcell Ozuna is showing in his average launch angle (up three points) is showing bigger dividends in his power, as he’s slugging almost 200 points higher. A trip to Miller Park should give him a good venue to see how well those improvements will pay off against the Brewers in an already important NL Central showdown.


2019 record: 9-6
Week 1 ranking: 8

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Arizona, 3 at Cleveland
What to watch: A little later than teammates Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, shortstop Dansby Swanson might be having his own breakout season at the plate in his age-25 season; his .995 OPS is best among NL shortstops. And with three games against the team that traded him to lead off the week, he might be able to show off what Arizona missed out on after sending Swanson to Atlanta in the now-infamous Shelby Miller trade.


2019 record: 9-5
Week 1 ranking: 2

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. N.Y. Mets, 4 at Colorado
What to watch: Everybody knew when the Phillies signed Bryce Harper that they were getting an OBP machine. What was less expected was that Andrew McCutchen would slide into the leadoff role and be just as potent at getting aboard — the duo of free-agent additions are tied for the MLB lead with 14 walks apiece. How that grinding approach works out against the Mets should bear watching in the first series between the teams this season.


2019 record: 6-9
Week 1 ranking: 6

This week’s matchups: 2 games vs. Boston, 4 vs. Kansas City
What to watch: The banged-up Yankees aren’t in great shape for their first matchups with the Red Sox. New York enters the week having lost five of six, and for the season, has lost six of nine at home against teams that can’t be considered the iron of the AL — the Orioles, Tigers and White Sox. This is a big week for left-hander James Paxton, who gets his first taste of the rivalry when he faces Chris Sale. Paxton (1-2, 6.80) said he thought he was tipping pitches in Houston when he allowed five runs and eight hits, including two homers, in four innings last Wednesday.


2019 record: 7-7
Week 1 ranking: 12

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. San Francisco, 3 at Miami
What to watch: The Nationals will want to take advantage of two weaker foes as their present .500 record isn’t going to cut it in the ultra-competitive NL East. Doing his part so far is Anthony Rendon, who entered Sunday ranked as follows: tied for second in slugging (.922), second in isolated power (.510), third in wOBA (.553) and third in WRC+ (242).


2019 record: 6-10
Week 1 ranking: 11

This week’s matchups: 1 game vs. Baltimore, 2 at N.Y. Yankees, 3 at Tampa Bay
What to watch: The weekend series against the Rays takes on a bit of importance as the Red Sox dig out from their slow start, and having their Cy-winning trio of Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale lined up to pitch might still look good on paper, but Boston’s starters have an MLB-worst 7.34 ERA, and their rotation’s strikeout rate of 18.8 percent ranks 27th.


2019 record: 11-6
Week 1 ranking: 13

This week’s matchups: 2 games vs. Colorado, 4 vs. Cincinnati
What to watch: The Padres head home in first place after a 7-3 road trip despite having a minus-3 run differential on the season. Part of the reason is their pitchers have been great at stranding runners (NL-high 108), but of course that also means they’re letting a lot of guys on in the first place. Fernando Tatis Jr. came alive on the trip, posting a 1.180 OPS. Now he’ll try to impress the home fans, in front of whom his OPS is just .619.


2019 record: 8-7
Week 1 ranking: 9

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Seattle, 3 vs. Atlanta
What to watch: As if getting swept by the Royals over the weekend wasn’t bad enough, seeing Corey Kluber get crushed Sunday while walking five batters in a turn for the first time in his career doesn’t bode well. And when will Jose Ramirez‘s bat come to life? Between a .373 OPS and no homers so far, last year’s MVP-worthy breakout seems like a distant memory.


2019 record: 10-9
Week 1 ranking: 16

This week’s matchups: 2 games vs. Houston, 3 vs. Toronto
What to watch: Fueled in part by Khris Davis ‘ MLB-leading 10 home runs, the A’s will have to run their streak of seven straight games with multiple home runs up against the Astros, but will at least miss both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in their abbreviated series.


2019 record: 5-9
Week 1 ranking: 19

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Miami, 3 vs. Arizona
What to watch: Following a snow postponement Sunday in Chicago, the Cubs head to warmer climates having somewhat righted their ship following a 1-6 start. Offense hasn’t been an issue, especially if Jason Heyward can continue his resurgence. Heyward has a .375/.460/.700 slash line with four homers and 10 RBIs. Two big changes from his recent struggles: an improved launch angle (19 degrees this year after being at 9.0 from 2015-18) and a K rate of just 8.0 percent (second best in baseball).


2019 record: 8-4
Week 1 ranking: 15

This week’s matchups: 4 games vs. Toronto, 3 at Baltimore
What to watch: The surprising first-place Twins have a chance to pad their AL Central lead against the AL East’s bottom-feeders. Eddie Rosario has helped fuel Minnesota with an 1.187 OPS over the past nine games, but his combined career OPS against Toronto and Baltimore is just .647.


2019 record: 8-6
Week 1 ranking: 18

This week’s matchups: 2 games at Detroit, 3 vs. San Francisco
What to watch: The Pirates, who were 15-5 in interleague play last season, dive in against the AL for the first time this season Tuesday and Wednesday at Detroit. Pittsburgh’s surprising pitching staff (2.69 ERA) faces a pair of teams hitting below .210 for the season.


2019 record: 8-7
Week 1 ranking: 21

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Texas, 4 vs. Seattle
What to watch: Getting Mike Trout back from his strained groin, because after five homers and a 1.529 OPS in his first dozen games, nobody who doesn’t pitch for a living wanted to see his hot start come to an end. He’s supposed to travel to Texas, not a moment too soon for an injury-wracked Angels team trying to stay over .500.


2019 record: 5-9
Week 1 ranking: 27

This week’s matchups: 3 at L.A. Dodgers, 4 at San Diego
What to watch: Yasiel Puig hit his first home run as a Red on Sunday, just in time to get off the schneid as he faces his former teammates in his former home ballpark. Will a return to Dodger Stadium cure what’s been ailing Puig’s bat? As bad as Puig’s season has been (.502 OPS), it’s almost 100 points better than fellow former Dodger Matt Kemp (.405).


2019 record: 8-7
Week 1 ranking: 23

This week’s matchups: 2 vs. Pittsburgh, 4 vs. White Sox
What to watch: Tune in Tuesday to see how Matthew Boyd — whiffing batters at an MLB-best 15.1 K/9 clip — fares against the Pirates, who beat him badly in both of his previous starts against them. And then stay tuned to see if he draws the assignment against the White Sox on Sunday — Boyd has an 18-inning scoreless streak against them ever since Chicago inflicted a five-run inning on him on August 27, 2017.


2019 record: 7-10
Week 1 ranking: 26

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Washington, 3 at Pittsburgh
What to watch: After suffering their third shutout loss of the season Sunday, the Giants have been held to one run or none in seven of their first 17 games, they’re below the Mendoza line at the plate, last in the league in OPS (.572) and OBP (.259), and next-to-last in runs (averaging just 2.76 per game). All of that has combined to mute the excellent start from the pitching staff, whose 2.75 ERA ranks third in the majors.


2019 record: 7-9
Week 1 ranking: 20

This week’s matchups: 3 at Atlanta, 3 at Cubs
What to watch: Coming off a 4-5 homestand, the D-backs open a 10-game trip looking to build some positive momentum. Robbie Ray is scheduled to start Tuesday’s opener at Atlanta, and though he has allowed three or fewer hits in three straight starts to begin the season, he also has 11 walks. Pitch count issues have prevented him from going deeper than 5⅓ innings.


2019 record: 7-7
Week 1 ranking: 22

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Angels, 3 vs. Astros
What to watch: This figures to be a challenging week for the Rangers, who scored just four runs in suffering a three-game sweep at the Angels earlier this month, then tangle with the red-hot Astros. Texas’ rotation, which was held together with bubble gum and shoestrings to begin with, could use some good signs from Shelby Miller, who is scheduled to make two starts, including Monday. His first two starts haven’t gone well (5⅔ IP, 8 walks, 3.18 WHIP, 9.53 ERA).


2019 record: 5-11
Week 1 ranking: 24

This week’s matchups: 4 games at Minnesota, 3 at Oakland
What to watch: The combination of a slow start, an injury-wracked pitching staff and a long road trip may not sound like a great week to watch them, but the window for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to get called up without being credited with a full season of service time should soon open. He already has hit his first home run at Triple-A Buffalo, so it’s only a matter of time.


2019 record: 4-12
Week 11 ranking: 17

This week’s matchups: 2 games at San Diego, 4 vs. Philadelphia
What to watch: Needless to say, the Rockies are in scramble mode, having lost 12 of 13 before German Marquez one-hit the Giants on Sunday. They’re tied with the Marlins for last in the NL with 46 runs (which can’t last, right?), and start the week with two games at the first-place Padres. Then they host the Phillies at Coors Field, where they still haven’t won a game this season (0-5).


2019 record: 5-9
Week 1 ranking: 25

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Kansas City, 4 at Detroit
What to watch: Check out Tim Anderson ‘s see-ball, hit-ball approach while he’s still hot; his MLB-high .500 BABIP while seeing just 3.27 pitches per plate appearance (185th out of 188 players). What the White Sox need to see is their rotation get turned around; their 6.78 ERA is second-worst in the majors, with both Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez combining to allow 31 runs in 29⅓ IP.


2019 record: 6-10
Week 1 ranking: 30

This week’s matchups: 1 game at Boston, 3 at Tampa Bay, 3 vs. Minnesota
What to watch: The O’s might be mired in a 2-8 skid, but they’ve been more competitive than expected, Chris Davis finally did end his epic oh-fer, and they should get Alex Cobb back from the IL to shore up the rotation this week.


2019 record: 5-10
Week 1 ranking: 28

This week’s matchups: 3 games at Chi. White Sox, 4 at N.Y. Yankees
What to watch: Brad Keller is showing that his strong rookie season was no fluke, opening the season with four straight quality starts, five if you count back to last season. With a 1.8 ground ball/fly ball ratio that rates in the top five and a strikeout rate that’s going up, he might take the injured Salvador Perez‘s place as a legit Royals All-Star.


2019 record: 4-12
Week 1 ranking: 29

This week’s matchups: 3 games vs. Chi. Cubs, 3 vs. Washington
What to watch: The lineup may be struggling to score, averaging just 2.9 runs per game, and they may not have won a series yet this season, but they finally reached five figures in attendance for a home game in both of their weekend games. Will the marquee power of the Cubs and Nationals keep that streak going? Having Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith going strong in the rotation might also help.

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Pujols jumps Ruth for 5th place with 1,993 RBIs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols surpassed Babe Ruth for fifth place in baseball history with his 1,993rd career RBI.

Pujols passed the Babe in the ninth inning on Saturday night with a solo homer to center field off Anthony Swarzak, though the Angels lost to the Seattle Mariners 6-5.

Earlier, Pujols had tied Ruth’s mark in the third inning when he drove home Andrelton Simmons with a double off Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi.

The Angel Stadium crowd gave a standing ovation to Pujols, who acknowledged the cheers on second base with a wave of his helmet.

Pujols only passed Ruth according to baseball’s official starting point for the mark. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920 — Ruth’s first year with the Yankees, though his career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox.

Pujols is also closing in on Lou Gehrig (1,994) and Barry Bonds (1,996) on the career RBIs chart. Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) lead the list.

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Michael Chavis’ mad scramble to reach The Show

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As he packed for a quick three-game road trip to Syracuse, New York, on Thursday, Michael Chavis stared at his bag, then his locker, and again at his bag.

He’d packed too much stuff. He didn’t need all those gloves, bats and knickknacks, he thought. Just three T-shirts and a pair of jeans. After all, the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox were scheduled for only three games out of town, just a quick weekend getaway. He figured he’d be back in Pawtucket on Monday.

But a phone call, a turbulent flight, a hectic trip into an airport clothing store and a quick ride to the ballpark later, Chavis found himself standing in front of a locker at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. So he was very much not in Syracuse, let alone Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was more than 1,300 miles away and not even knowing the day of the week off the top of his head.

“I should’ve brought all that stuff,” Chavis said with a chuckle. “I need that now.”

Everything started a little over 24 hours earlier, when Chavis woke up at 10:45 a.m. on Friday in Syracuse to three missed calls from PawSox manager Billy McMillon, who told him he’d been called up to the big leagues. As he began to gather his stuff, Chavis FaceTimed his mom, Dorothy, who immediately began crying. She’d taken up a second job at night to help pay for Chavis’ travel baseball as he was growing up.

“I knew she was going to be the first person to call ’cause she’s done so much for me,” Chavis said. “I honestly think the headlines should be more about everything she’s done for me until this point more than anything I’ve done.”

Then came phone call after phone call after phone call, from friends to family. As the news broke, text messages began piling up, nearly 600 by the end of the night.

“You don’t even remember everything you said,” Chavis said. “The next person, you’re repeating everything.”

Chavis quickly packed his stuff at the hotel and the ballpark before jolting to the Syracuse airport to catch his 1 p.m. flight to Detroit, where he’d connect through to join the Red Sox in Florida. The plane, a small jet, hit turbulence on the short hourlong flight.

“They couldn’t even do drinks or snack service ’cause everyone was falling,” Chavis said. “I felt like I was in ‘Snakes on a Plane’ going to my debut.”

When he landed at the Detroit airport with 45 minutes to spare before his next flight, Chavis realized he didn’t want to walk into his first big league call-up wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants. “I need something to look nice,” he told himself. Frazzled and hungry, he hustled into a clothing store, not even checking what store he was entering, and immediately sought help from the retail employees. He had 10 minutes to find a button-up shirt, jeans and shoes that fit him.

“What’s going on?” one employee asked.

“I’m going to the big leagues, dude,” Chavis responded. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

The store’s employees shuffled him into the storage room, the closest thing they had to a changing room, so he could try on the impromptu business-casual uniform. Chavis pulled out his phone and turned on the front-facing camera to make sure everything fit and rushed off to his flight.

Texts kept pouring in as Chavis anxiously awaited landing in Florida. His brother, Fuzzy (real name: Christian), was driving down from Alabama along with five other close friends and family. Meanwhile, Red Sox officials kept texting, asking where he was as the game was about to begin.

“I’m literally in the air right now,” Chavis thought to himself. “I don’t know what you want me to do. I need to fly.”

After landing, Chavis called an Uber, which dropped him off three blocks from the stadium. With his backpack, suitcase and a bag full of personal items on him, Chavis walked toward the stadium. His phone buzzed — a text from Fuzzy.

“Hey, where are you?” the text read. “I’m sitting at the gate waiting for you.”

“You beat me here,” Chavis said.

Chavis arrived in the Red Sox clubhouse in the fifth inning. And before he had a moment to appreciate his arrival in a big league clubhouse for the first time, Boston coach Ramon Vazquez told him that the team might need him to pinch hit in two batters.

“That’s impossible,” Chavis said.

Rookies, he’d heard, always get messed with during their first stint in the big leagues. There he stood, in jeans and a shirt. He hadn’t stretched. He didn’t know what pitcher the Red Sox were facing. He hadn’t seen a single scouting report. But Vazquez wasn’t joking.

“I didn’t even get to tell him congratulations,” Vazquez said.

Panic set in.

“Where are my cleats? Do I need a cup? Where are my batting gloves?” Chavis asked himself. “Where are my bats?”

As Chavis quickly warmed up in the batting cage, catcher Christian Vazquez knocked a two-run homer into center field, giving the Red Sox a 4-1 lead, negating any need for him to pinch hit, giving him a night to rest.

On his second day in the big leagues, Chavis went through his normal routine, trying to stay in the moment and not overthink things just because he’s now in the big leagues. For the past few years, Chavis had slowly started to see the other high school players from the 2014 draft make their major league debuts. But now that he’s made it here, Chavis is trying to keep things as normal as possible, which is much easier said than done.

“Holy crap,” Chavis said before Saturday’s game. “Now I’m in the big leagues. That sounds weird right now.”

When Rays outfielder Tommy Pham hit a solo homer off reliever Matt Barnes to tie the game 5-5 in the eighth inning, Chavis knew he would be hitting in the ninth. And he knew that in Rays star reliever Jose Alvarado, he had a big challenge ahead of him.

“Facing Alvarado in the [Gulf Coast League], he was a starter and he absolutely just destroyed us whenever he faced us,” Chavis said. “I was just joking with [Fuzzy] before today’s game and all, if I get my first AB late in the game today, let’s just not have it be Alvarado.”

With outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on first base and the score tied 5-5 with one out, the count on Chavis tallied to 1-2, and Alvarado called timeout. Chavis, feeling his knees literally shaking, took a moment to gather himself before driving a 99 mph slider from Alvarado straight over the head of center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. His first big league hit — a double — set up the go-ahead RBI sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi for a 6-5 Red Sox victory and put Boston in position to sweep the series with a win on Sunday.

That’s why Chavis, the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law, is up in the big leagues in the first place — his bat. In 12 games and 40 at-bats this season in Triple-A, Chavis had four homers and was hitting .250/.354/.600. Manager Alex Cora said Chavis will make his first major league start on Sunday in the series finale. Ultimately, Boston will look to its top prospect to fill multiple positions, including first, second and third base.

“There’s no lack of confidence,” Cora said.

Chavis said he’ll be giving the ball from his first major league hit to his mom, as a thank-you for the sacrifices she made for him. And as the night of his first game ticked away, the rookie infielder stood in the Tropicana Field visitors’ clubhouse, trying to absorb everything that had just happened.

“I can’t tell you how many times at my house, in the backyard we had a garden, how many times I envisioned this exact scenario, pinch hitting for the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning off a closer who’s nasty and getting a hit,” Chavis said. “I tossed up rocks, pretending I was in this moment. When I was on deck, I looked around, and I was like, wow.”

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Pujols ties Ruth for 5th all time with 1,992 RBIs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols has tied Babe Ruth for fifth place in baseball history with his 1,992nd career RBI.

Pujols drove home Andrelton Simmons with a double off Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi in the third inning Saturday night.

The Angel Stadium crowd gave a standing ovation to Pujols, who acknowledged the cheers on second base with a wave of his helmet.

Pujols only tied Ruth according to baseball’s official starting point for the mark. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920, and Ruth’s career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox.

Pujols is also closing in on Lou Gehrig (1,995) and Barry Bonds (1,996) on the career RBIs chart. Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) lead the list.

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