- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - Albert Pujols is closing in on his 500th homer and joining a prestigious club. More important for the Los Angeles Angels, he’s looking like his powerful self again.

The 34-year-old Pujols is hitting .280 with six home runs through 75 at-bats this year, an encouraging start following an injury-plagued 2013. The Angels enter a series at Washington with Pujols at 498 career homers.

“There’s no doubt, just speaking of the last couple years we’ve had him here, that this is the best foundation he’s had, this is the healthiest he’s been,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think you’re starting to see some of the swings he can put on baseballs on a consistent basis. It’s been fun to watch.”

With Pujols poised to reach 500 homers, it’s worth a look at who the next few candidates to approach that milestone might be. Adam Dunn is also 34 and has 443 home runs. He went deep 34 times last year, so a couple more seasons like that would put him over the top.

“I’ve never been numbers-oriented in my life, and not starting now,” Dunn said. “If it comes, it comes. That would be awesome.”

Miguel Cabrera just turned 31, and he has 366 homers. He should certainly have a good shot at 500 if he remains healthy and productive. Cabrera and Pujols both started putting up big numbers at a young age - and that’s crucial in the chase for a milestone like this.

There are 25 players currently in the 500-homer club, and they averaged 141 homers before turning 26, according to STATS. With that as a baseline, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton is in impressive shape already. He doesn’t turn 25 until after this season, and he already has 123 home runs.

Prince Fielder had 163 homers before turning 26. He’s up to 287 now - with his 30th birthday coming up next month - but Fielder is hitting .188 for Texas and needs to hope his power stroke isn’t in serious decline.

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Here are five things to watch around the majors this week.

BACK IN BOSTON: After signing a $153 million, seven-year contract with the New York Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury comes back to Fenway Park to face his former team. Boston hosts the Yankees in a three-game series starting Tuesday. Ellsbury is hitting .338 this season with eight stolen bases.

MARQUEE MATCHUP: Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox is off to another terrific start, and he’ll face Detroit ace Justin Verlander on Tuesday night, part of a four-game series against the Tigers.

HAMELS RETURNS: Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels, who has been slowed by shoulder discomfort, is slated to make his first start of the season Wednesday night. He’ll face right-hander Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

HITTING HANLEY: Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez was hit on his left hand by a pitch last week and had to miss the finale of a series with the San Francisco Giants. Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly took notice, saying the Dodgers are ready to protect their players if Ramirez keeps getting hit.

Ramirez has been hit 47 times in his big league career. The Dodgers face the Phillies and Colorado Rockies this week.

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