Rich Harden pitches well in return from disabled list

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Rangers right-hander Rich Harden was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday night and took the mound immediately against the Angels.  Coming off a six-week stint on the disabled list and entering the outing with a 5.68 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if he got shelled.

But he didn’t.  Harden limited the Angels to five hits and one earned run over five innings while racking up three strikeouts and firing 62 of his 88 pitches for strikes.  The Rangers won the game 2-1 and the 28-year-old moved to 4-3 on the year.  He talked to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Anthony Andro afterward.

“It felt good. It’s been a long wait, just thinking about getting out
there. It’s not a good feeling not being able to pitch and not being
able to help your team out. I really wanted to go out and be aggressive
and put the ball in play.”

Harden had a brutal start to the 2010 season including a 5.68 ERA over five starts in May and a 7.31 ERA over three starts in June.  But ask any American League hitter — or just check the stats — and you’ll find that Harden is regarded as one of the nastiest starters in the game.  He employs a fastball-changeup combination that can be lethal and his 9.21 career strikeouts-per-nine innings rate is exceptional.  He’s going to play a major role for the playoff-bound Rangers down the stretch, and possibly into October.

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.