The dump-McGwire campaign intensifies

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McGwire crying.jpgYesterday Ken Rosenthal gave Mark McGwire an ultimatum: repent or resign.  I had missed the fact that, earlier in the day, Peter Gammons had thrown a log on that same fire, calling McGwire a “distraction,” questioning whether his presence on the Cardinals is sustainable and, as a grand finale, saying “McGwire, La Russa, Mozeliak, DeWitt and Selig had better sit down and
think it through, because less than two weeks into the return of Big
Mac, this has all the feel of Tom Eagleton.”

For you kids who don’t remember the 1972 Presidential campaign, Tom Eagleton was a U.S. Senator from Missouri who was picked to be Democratic nominee George McGovern’s running mate.  He was forced off the ticket, however, when it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for serious mental health difficulties, had suffered from manic depression and suicidal tendencies and had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs.

McGwire = Eagleton?  Really Peter?  A hitting coach who took some PEDs a few years ago inspires a comparison to a man with potentially debilitating mental health problems being a heartbeat away from the presidency?  Sure, why not.  But unlike Rosenthal, I’m willing to give Gammons a greater benefit of the doubt on this sort of thing because his commentary tends not to skew hysterical. To that end I’m assuming that Gammons is referring to the media circus that is developing around McGwire and isn’t making some sort of moral or psychological equivalence.

But of course there will be a media circus when spring training starts. Of course McGwire will be a “distraction,” to use Gammons’ term. But it’s not because there’s anything relevant left to report about Mark McGwire’s steroid use or anything else he should be obligated to add. It’s because everywhere McGwire goes, people like Rosenthal and Gammons will fulfill their own prophesies, jumping up and down, madly pointing and shouting “Look! A distraction!”

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.