Jon Niese hammered for eight runs as ERA rises to 5.93

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When Jon Niese was awarded his first Opening Day assignment this year, the hope was that he would help lead the Mets’ rotation with Johan Santana sidelined and R.A. Dickey in Toronto. However, while Matt Harvey has quickly emerged as that No. 1 guy, Niese hasn’t looked anything close to the same pitcher.

Niese’s early season struggles continued this afternoon against the Pirates, as he was hammered for eight runs on eight hits and three walks over just 4 1/3 innings. The eight runs allowed matched a career-high.

Niese took a nice step forward last year with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts, but he now has a 5.93 ERA through eight starts. Meanwhile, he has compiled an ugly 21/22 K/BB ratio over 41 innings and has even lost a tick off his velocity. Not what you want to see from someone who averaged 7.5 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 for his career coming into 2013.

It’s worth noting that Mets manager Terry Collins said Niese was dealing with “a knot” in his back after he gave up seven runs in four innings against the Braves last Sunday. Niese later downplayed the situation, but one wonders whether he has altered his mechanics to compensate for the discomfort. Either way, something isn’t right.

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.