Justin Turner hit a pair of home runs Sunday, including one against right-hander Joe Musgrove, in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 11-4 romp against the San Diego Padres. Turner helped the Dodgers improve to 96-43 overall, ascending to an astounding 20-game lead on San Diego in the National League West. Their magic number to clinch the division is 3.
Only two teams since 1955 had a better record through 139 games than the Dodgers do now: the 2001 Seattle Mariners (99-40) and the 1998 New York Yankees (100-39). To be on the verge of 100 victories already, it might seem like most everything has gone right for the Dodgers, but we know this isn’t the case.
Walker Buehler made only 12 starts before going down with a season-ending injury. All-Star Tony Gonsolin has been on the shelf for three weeks. Clayton Kershaw has missed about 10 starts. Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Cody Bellinger have been banged-up and are performing below their best. Yes, the Dodgers have benefitted from typically great seasons by Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Julio Urias, but it hasn't been like manager Dave Roberts had all hands on deck yet.
The Dodgers have gotten a resurgence from Turner, who has been sizzling at the plate for 2 1/2 months after a ragged beginning. Heading into action on June 30, Turner was batting .217/.290/.344 in 286 plate appearances. At 37 years old, it was fair to wonder if the red-headed goblin had reached the end of the road as a highly useful MLB player. Waiting in the wings was 22-year-old Miguel Vargas, a consensus top 30-40 overall prospect who plays third base. Was the time right for the Dodgers to make a change at the hot corner?
Well, such speculation was premature. In 44 games since June 30, Turner is batting .371/.440/.616 with nine home runs. As longtime Dodgers expert Eric Stephen notes, only Aaron Judge has a higher OPS than Turner in that span. And it's funny, because Musgrove himself didn't act all that impressed with Turner back in June.
"When he's in the box, I don't feel like he's a huge threat," Musgrove said then.
Whoops! That's just pride talking, Joseph.
Turner is writing yet another chapter in the biography of a player that analysts overlooked at various stages of his career. A seventh-round pick of the Reds in 2005, the Cal State Fullerton product didn't begin to get consistent playing time until he was 26. And he didn't reach the Dodgers — his fourth MLB organization — until he was nearly 30. A first-time All-Star at 32 who also won NL Championship Series MVP that season, Turner still has some juice remaining in the carrot. Not only that, but he's also a full-fledged Chippendale Dancer on the side!
You probably never realized how cut Justin Turner was. He is just full of surprises.
MLB Power Rankings
Rankings are determined by staff vote
Records and statistics are through Sept. 11
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (96-43, Last week: 1): In the division era (since 1969), Cleveland in 1995 had the largest margin of victory over a second-place team. In a shortened season (because of the players' strike), that ’95 squad went 100-44 to finish 30 games ahead of the Royals in the American League Central.
2. Houston Astros (90-50, LW: 2): Right-hander Justin Verlander could return to the rotation (and the AL Cy Young race) within the week, he says.
3. New York Mets (89-52, LW: 3): With slugger Starling Marte out for a while because of a non-displaced fracture in his right middle finger, the Mets called up 22-year-old infield prospect Mark Vientos, who batted 280/.358/.519 with 24 homers, 16 doubles and 72 RBIs in 101 games with Triple-A Syracuse.
4. Atlanta Braves (87-53, LW: 4): Kenley Jansen leads the NL with 33 saves, but there are signs — like the two home runs he allowed in Sunday’s loss to the Mariners — that he might not be the closer for much longer in Atlanta. Raisel Iglesias is standing by.
5. St. Louis Cardinals (83-58, LW: 6): Albert Pujols has 697 career home runs and is slugging .748 in 114 second-half plate appearances.
6. New York Yankees (85-56, LW: 5): For those wondering about the Triple Crown, Aaron Judge (.307) trails AL batting leader Xander Bogaerts (.319) and three others. Judge, who’s batting .353 in the second half, has MLB bests in home runs (55) and RBIs (121). Wow.
7. Seattle Mariners (79-61, LW: 7): Julio Rodriguez and Eugenio Suárez are the players who took Jansen deep in their stunning comeback victory against the Braves.
8. Tampa Bay Rays (78-60, LW: 8): Despite their rosy playoff picture, allowing a total of 22 runs to the Yankees to close the series in the Bronx does not make for a comfortable feeling.
9. Toronto Blue Jays (78-61, LW: 9): They should have a playoff spot locked up as long as they don’t get swept by the Orioles this week. That’s really the only way Baltimore sneaks back into the race and takes the Jays’ place. Probably.
10. Philadelphia Phillies (78-62, LW: 10): It turns out you need healthy thumbs to hit home runs. Bryce Harper, who has been recovering from a broken left thumb, hit his first homer in 102 plate appearances Saturday. It matched a career-long HR drought from 2014 when he had an injured left thumb.
11. San Diego Padres (77-64, LW: 11): A place among the NL wild-card winners is theirs to lose, but the closing schedule won't be easy — Mariners, Cardinals, Dodgers and White Sox make up most of the games.
12. Milwaukee Brewers (75-66, LW: 13): They are two games back of the Padres in the NL wild-card race. Milwaukee's next eight games come against the Cardinals, Yankees and Mets.
13. Cleveland Guardians (73-65, LW: 14): They have a four-game lead in the loss column on the White Sox, and 17 of their remaining 24 games come against teams who have (at this moment) losing records.
14. Chicago White Sox (72-69, LW: 16): Tony La Russa wants to return to the dugout after experiencing health problems, but doctors haven't cleared him yet. And it’s not obvious that the White Sox want it to happen either, considering how well they have been playing under interim manager Miguel Cairo.
15. Baltimore Orioles (73-67, LW: 12): At 5 1/2 games back in the AL wild-card race, they're running out of time.
16. Minnesota Twins (69-70, LW: 15): They need to reel off a bunch of wins after falling below .500, and they start this week with three games against the Royals.
17. Boston Red Sox (69-72, LW: 17): Xander Bogaerts (.319) leads Luis Arráez of the Twins (.314) in the AL batting title race. Bogaerts is also fourth in on-base percentage (.387).
18. San Francisco Giants (67-73, LW: 19): Wilmer Flores signed a two-year contract extension.
19. Arizona Diamondbacks (66-73, LW: 18): Right-hander Zac Gallen's scoreless streak ended at 44 1/3 innings, the seventh longest in AL/NL history.
20. Los Angeles Angels (61-79, LW: 20): Shohei Ohtani needs 12 more strikeouts as a pitcher to become the first person in AL/NL history to have 200 Ks to go with 30-plus homers as a hitter.
21. Texas Rangers (60-79, LW: 21): Rookie third baseman Josh Jung, their top prospect, is someone to watch over the final few weeks of the regular season.
22. Colorado Rockies (61-80, LW: 22): C.J. Cron needs two homers for 30 and four RBIs for 100.
23. Chicago Cubs (58-82, LW: 23): Having dealt with injuries and being new to the Western Hemisphere, Seiya Suzuki is finishing up a successful first season in MLB. He's batting .260/.332/.435 with 13 home runs, 22 doubles and eight stolen bases in his first 100 games. He's also slugging .571 in nine September games.
24. Miami Marlins (57-82, LW: 24): Jorge Soler has a back injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
25. Cincinnati Reds (56-82, LW: 26): The pitching staff reportedly is taxed, but the club also has two doubleheaders scheduled for this week.
26. Kansas City Royals (57-84, LW: 25): The development of right-hander Brady Singer, who has a 3.21 ERA in 21 starts, is the most encouraging news of 2022 for the Royals.
27. Detroit Tigers (54-86, LW: 28): They have been shut out 20 times so far, their most since 1975.
28. Pittsburgh Pirates (51-88, LW: 29): Rookie slugger Oneil Cruz is batting .249/.302/.509 against righties, but he has been struggling against left-handed pitching — until he jumped on a mistake by lefty JoJo Romero for a home run Saturday.
29. Oakland Athletics (51-90, LW: 27): The club retired Dave Stewart's No. 34 uniform. He was a key figure in the team's dominance of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
30. Washington Nationals (49-92, LW: 30): Left-hander MacKenzie Gore, who came over in the Juan Soto deal, threw 1 2/3 scoreless frames in his first rehab appearance after sustaining a sore elbow.