Why are the Twins, Braves and Angels smiling?

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Because they have some of the easiest second-half schedules among contenders.  That according to Buster Oleny who breaks it all down in his latest column.

Really the Reds and Cardinals have the easiest schedules left, but considering they’re competing with each other for the NL Central title, the cake schedule doesn’t really give either of them an advantage. At least not against one another. Each of them will have an advantage in the wild card race against the runners up in the East and the West, however. And here you thought the Pirates, Astros, Cubs and Brewers had no place in the playoff conversation.

Outside of the NL “cupcake” Central, the Twins get some help from the scheduling gods, with seven more games against sub-.500 teams than the White Sox have, and three more home games as well. The Braves have one more game against losers than do the Mets, but they also have six more home games. Given that both the Braves and Mets have done much better at home, this really works in Atlanta’s favor.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Dodgers, who play 58 of their 74 remaining games against winners, 11 more than the team with the next toughest go of it, the Rockies. The Padres have an easier time overall, but their schedule is backloaded, with several tough series in September.  Think it’s a coincidence that San Diego is thinking about putting Mat Latos on the disabled list right now?  He may not be that badly hurt, but given that he has an innings cap this year, better to have him fresh, healthy and available in September than July or August.

But before we get too far down this schedule = destiny road, let’s remember something: unlike football, baseball really is a game of any given Sunday (and Monday thru Saturday too). Anybody beats anybody, and what matters more than schedule, I believe anyway, is health.

So this is all fun, but ultimately the teams who suffer the fewest key injuries are the teams who will be the best off.

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.