The Justin Turner story has been well-documented: waived by the Baltimore Orioles, utility infielder with the New York Mets, non-tendered, signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent, re-worked his swing to create a higher launch angle and develop more power, grew an enormous red beard, re-signed with the Dodgers as a free agent with a four-year, $64 million contract.
No doubt, it’s an inspiring story for backup infielders everywhere who think they just need a chance to play. It’s also a reminder that baseball talent is everywhere; sometimes right in front of us. Turner has discussed how the way he was treated in New York motivated him to become better — not only that call from GM Sandy Alderson that the Mets were cutting him loose after the 2013 season but also not getting a September call-up in 2010 after he played well in Triple-A.
Turner has made sure his story doesn’t end with that big contract he signed last December. He is playing the best baseball of his career at age 32, and he made his first All-Star team. If he hadn’t missed three weeks because of a hamstring strain, he might be right up there for MVP consideration.
As it is, Turner has become the veteran leader of the lineup, the guy manager Dave Roberts calls “the glue of our ballclub.” That’s especially true with Adrian Gonzalez on the disabled list and essentially out of a starting job anyway and the emergence of Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor. Turner belted his 13th home run and doubled in Sunday’s 8-0 victory over the Mets. Bellinger added his 32nd home run, a 447-foot blast to center field, as the Dodgers won for the 44th time in 51 games. Turner is hitting .349/.443/.547 and leads the National League in batting average with a 14-point edge over Daniel Murphy, another former Met.
Leading the league in average is impressive, considering that no Dodger has done that since Tommy Davis won back-to-back crowns in 1962 and 1963 with .346 and .326 marks. Mike Piazza holds the single-season franchise mark since the team moved to Los Angeles, hitting .362 in 1997 when he finished third in the batting race. He also finished second in 1995 and third in 1996. Dodger Stadium, however, has generally been a tough park to hit in throughout its history, with a park factor that rates as a pitcher’s park every season of its existence except 2006 and 2007.
The right-handed Turner slots in between Corey Seager and Bellinger in the lineup these days, and his home run Sunday came off lefty Steven Matz. You might remember that the Dodgers struggled to hit against left-handers last season, ranking last in the majors in wOBA. That was an obvious flaw heading into the postseason, and they lost both games started by the Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester in the NL Championship Series, scoring only two runs off him in 13 innings.
But hitting against lefties hasn’t been an issue in 2017, thanks in large part to Turner’s killing it against left-handers with a .398/.489/.759 line, including 10 home runs. Overall, the Dodgers are tied for third in the majors with a .359 wOBA versus lefties. As you might expect of a team on pace for 115 wins, it’s one without a weakness.
Seattle Mariners acquire Yonder Alonso, split doubleheader with Kansas City Royals because nobody wants to win that second AL wild card. The Mariners have needed a lefty platoon partner for Danny Valencia all season, as the Mariners rank 29th in the majors in wOBA at first base. Alonso has slowed down since a big first half — really, he had one big month, hitting .303 with 10 home runs in April — though he should still be an upgrade as the strong side of a platoon with Valencia.
The other big news in the wild-card race was the Royals’ putting catcher Salvador Perez on the DL after he strained an intercostal muscle on his right side Friday. There’s no timetable for his return, with the Royals saying that Perez could miss anywhere from 10 days to four weeks.
On the field, the two teams split a doubleheader, with the Mariners taking the opener 8-7 after nearly blowing a 7-0 lead against Danny Duffy. With a chance to move into a playoff position, the Mariners lost the nightcap 9-1, so the Royals still hold that second wild card (and sit just 2½ games behind the Indians in the American League Central).
The toughest loss for the wild-card contenders belonged to the Los Angeles Angels — yes, they’ve hung around in this race — as they blew a 10-6 lead in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game when the A’s rallied for five runs … all with two outs. Khris Davis slammed a two-run homer off Blake Parker, and after a Ryon Healy double, manager Mike Scioscia summoned from the pen Bud Norris, who promptly went single, double and two-run single by Bruce Maxwell. The A’s won 11-10.
All this means is that the team everyone ripped at the trade deadline for not dealing Zach Britton is just 2½ games behind the Royals in the race for the second wild-card spot. That’s right: The Orioles still have a chance to get the last laugh. They bombed the Tigers 12-3 on Sunday behind Manny Machado‘s four-hit, five-RBI game. Just imagine if he goes on a tear these final two months.
One thing I wanted to check was each team’s remaining schedule. Let’s break down each into two categories: games against good teams (Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, plus any of the current five NL playoff teams) and games against the other AL wild-card contenders listed below.
Royals (57-53, +0.5): 17 vs. good teams (Indians 10, Diamondbacks 3, Rockies 3, Yankees 1); three vs. wild-card contenders (Rays 3). The Royals have the fewest combined games against good teams and wild-card contenders, and those 10 games against the Indians could determine the AL Central race.
Tampa Bay Rays (58-55, -0.5): 20 vs. good teams (Red Sox 8, Yankees 6, Indians 4, Cubs 2); 13 vs. wild-card contenders (Orioles 7, Mariners 3, Royals 3). The Rays have 14 games left against the Red Sox and Yankees; they’re 11-13 against them so far.
Mariners (57-56, -1.5): 12 vs. good teams (Astros 6, Yankees 3, Indians 3); 19 vs. wild-card contenders (Angels 10, Orioles 6, Rays 3). The Mariners have the majors’ longest road trip this season coming up: 12 games in Tampa, Atlanta, New York and Baltimore.
Orioles (55-56, -2.5): 16 vs. good teams (Yankees 7, Red Sox 6, Indians 3); 19 vs. wild-card contenders (Rays 7, Mariners 6, Angels 6). I’d rank this as the toughest remaining schedule of these five teams.
Angels (55-57, 3.0): 14 vs. good teams (Astros 9, Indians 3, Nationals 2); 16 vs. wild-card contenders (Mariners 10, Orioles 6). The Angels have actually played the Astros tough, losing six of 10 but outscoring them 40-38.
Happy birthday, Mike Trout. The Angels’ super-duper-star turns 26 on Monday. He is one hit shy of 1,000 in his career as the Angels take on the Orioles.
Most WAR since 2012 among position players:
Trout has also passed Chuck Finley for the most WAR in Angels history. He is also high on the list for most home runs through age-25 season:
Alex Rodriguez: 241
Eddie Mathews: 222
Jimmie Foxx: 222
Mel Ott: 211
Mickey Mantle: 207
Frank Robinson: 202
Albert Pujols: 201
Orlando Cepeda: 191
Mike Trout: 190
Ken Griffey Jr.: 189
If only Trout could pitch, the Angels might be pretty good.