A.J. Burnett is confident: “Guys don’t want to face me”

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I know A.J. Burnett became something of a joke last year. In much the way I tend to reach for Jeff Francoeur’s name whenever I’m trying for a laugh line about an ineffective hitter, Burnett has sort of become that for people who want to wax pessimistic about a big money, low results pitcher.

Burnett, however, sounds like he’s prepared to render that meme obsolete:

I’m a force out there. Guys don’t want to face me. I just felt like guys didn’t care if they faced me (last year). I feel like I gave them that edge… I came here to win. I came here to pitch. I came here to be behind Big Man. And I wasn’t last year.

I’m not going to say that the power of positive thinking will necessarily fix Burnett’s problems from last year. But it’s also the case that his problems did not seem to be physical ones. The ball would pop more or less. He stuff had bite. It just seemed like he was battling himself and not taking a smart approach to batters.  Maybe this new focus is evidence of change in this regard.

There may not be a player whose performance is more pivotal to his team’s chances in 2011 than A.J. Burnett.  If he’s back to form, there’s every reason to think that the Yankees will give Boston all they can handle.

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.