Brandon Phillips’ star turn guides Reds to Game 1 win

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Sure he’s a two-time All-Star, but maybe Brandon Phillips is feeling a little anonymous in Cincinnati. He certainly increased his profile Saturday as the Reds beat the Giants 5-2 in Game 1 of the NLDS.

Let’s run through the highlights:

– Phillips opened the scoring in the third with a two-run homer off Matt Cain. It was the first homer allowed by Cain in four career postseason starts. In fact, the those were the first two earned runs he had given up in 24 innings of postseason work.

– In the fifth, Phillips barehanded the ball on successive plays. First, he did it trying to turn a double play on a feed from Zack Cozart. However, the runner was able to beat out the strong relay. On the next play, he stuck his hand up and barehanded a grounder from Pablo Sandoval and threw to first to end the inning.

– The sixth inning saw Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco bunt down the first line. Reliever Mat Latos fielded the ball, but threw wide of Joey Votto at first base. Fortunately, Phillips, in a terrific display of heads-up baseball, was moving over from second to back up the play and made a diving stab of the baseball, keeping Blanco at first base.

– Phillips led off the eighth with a single, only to apparently get erased on a double play. But he didn’t. He managed to elude Marco Scutaro’s tag by falling down, and he got up and ran to second after Scutaro threw to first.

– The cherry on top: Phillips singled in a run in the top of the ninth, increasing Cincinnati’s lead from 3-1 to 4-1.

Mat Latos, Jay Bruce and Sam LeCure also did splendid work picking up the Reds after Johnny Cueto’s first-inning injury tonight, but this was Phillips’ show. He’s now 7-for-15 with two homers in four career postseason games. Tonight’s was the first that wasn’t a Reds loss.

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.