It’s all tied atop the AL East standings

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As it turned out, the Orioles didn’t need to wait until the weekend series against the Yankees for their chance to top the AL East standings.

Baltimore smoked Toronto 12-0 and the Yankees lost to the Rays 5-2 on Tuesday, setting up a tie for first place in the AL East. The Rays closed to within 1 1/2 games by beating the Bombers for the second straight day.

The Orioles’ win came first. Zach Britton, recalled from the minors earlier in the day, pitched seven scoreless innings, and Baltimore pitching shut out Toronto for the second straight day.  Mark Reynolds, who had a pair of two-homer games in the Bronx over the weekend, went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer and four RBI in this one. Nick Markakis, Chris Davis and Manny Machado also collected three hits apiece.

Tampa Bay’s win was closer, but the Yankees never did score again after Robinson Cano’s two-run homer off Alex Cobb in the first. As for the Rays, they had just five hits, but three of them were homers from Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton, the latter two coming consecutively in the fifth inning. Upton also had an RBI double in the contest.

The Yankees had been alone in first place for 84 straight days, a streak that is now over. They led the Rays by 10 1/2 games as recently as July 18, but Tampa Bay has made up nine games in a month and a half. If it’s not yet panic time in the Bronx, it’s getting pretty close. They’re not going to want their postseason to come down to a one-game, winner-take-all series with Hiroki Kuroda matching up against David Price.

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.