Reds beat Cubs to become first team to clinch playoff berth

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Trotting out a lineup that included just one regular, the Reds beat the Cubs 5-3 on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field and become the first team this year to clinch a playoff berth.

The Reds got Johnny Cueto his 18th victory despite fielding a lineup that included Miguel Cairo at first base and second baseman Henry Rodriguez hitting third in his first career start. Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey were in there as well, but catcher Ryan Hanigan was today’s only starter who can be safely penciled into the lineup for Game 1 of the NLDS.

The team was also missing its manager, as Dusty Baker remained hospitalized after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

Cincinnati’s ‘B’ lineup was shutout by Jason Berken for six innings, but it busted out for five runs off Manny Corpas in the top of the seventh. That earned Cueto the win, even though he had been removed for a pinch-hitter. Coming off three straight losses, Cueto was better today, though not dominant. He allowed five hits, walked four and struck out just two.

With two starts left, Cueto still has a chance at 20 wins for the season. He’ll have an even better chance if Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are in the lineup next time he pitches.

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.