Howard wins NLCS MVP after record-setting run

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Ryan Howard failed to drive in a run last night for the first time in this year’s playoffs, but it didn’t stop him from being named NLCS MVP after hitting .333/.524/.933 with two homers and eight RBIs in the Phillies’ five-game series win over the Dodgers.
Howard’s streak of consecutive playoff games with an RBI was snapped at eight, which ties him with Lou Gehrig and Alex Rodriguez for the all-time record (pending what A-Rod does tonight).
He also joins the following list of this decade’s NLCS MVP winners:
2009 – Ryan Howard
2008 – Cole Hamels
2007 – Matt Holliday
2006 – Jeff Suppan
2005 – Roy Oswalt
2004 – Albert Pujols
2003 – Ivan Rodriguez
2002 – Benito Santiago
2001 – Craig Counsell
2000 – Mike Hampton
Lots of big names on that list, with the occasional Suppan or Counsell thrown in as a reminder of how unpredictable the playoffs can be. Philadelphia is the first NL team to play in back-to-back World Series since Atlanta in 1995 and 1996, and the NLCS MVPs those two years were Javy Lopez and … Mike Devereaux.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.