Looking ahead to the Mets vs. Braves

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I went on Ted Berg’s Baseball Show over at SNY.TV this afternoon to help Ted scout the Braves in advance of  the Mets-Braves series. I used the phrases “atrocious,” “terrible” and “sink hole” to describe the Braves’ play of late, so that was fun.  I also made two pretty bad errors:

1. I called Fredi Gonzalez “Freddie Freeman” which is something I’ve been doing while writing since spring training and can’t seem to stop; and

2. I said that the Braves don’t give a long leash to young players. This is patently false and I knew it as soon as I got off the phone with Ted. I had this concept in my brain a couple of years ago for reasons that aren’t clear, and then someone who is not a Braves fan — and thus more objective than me — pointed out to me that I was full of beans.  And since then I’ve noticed and appreciated that the Braves do, in fact, give young players a lot of chances, actually, and one need look no further than the presence of Jason Heyward, Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters in key positions to realize it.

What I said about Freeman still stands — the Braves have no choice but to stick with him no matter how bad he hits — but why I auto-piloted to that “the Braves keep young players on a short leash” thing is a mystery to me. Just wasn’t thinking. This simply is not the case and hasn’t been for, like, a decade at least, even if it was ever true.

Anyway, enjoy.

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.