WASHINGTON -- The last time Daniel Murphy spent much time with Justin Turner, the latter was a 28-year-old Mets utility infielder, known as much for his clubhouse DJ duties -- "Swaggy" was his nickname -- as for his bat. When he cracked the lineup, Turner hit fifth or sixth. He
WASHINGTON -- The last time Daniel Murphy spent much time with Justin Turner, the latter was a 28-year-old Mets utility infielder, known as much for his clubhouse DJ duties -- "Swaggy" was his nickname -- as for his bat. When he cracked the lineup, Turner hit fifth or sixth. He had never been much more than that, nor did he seem destined to be.
When Turner took the field last week in Washington for the start of a five-game National League Division Series that the Nationals and Dodgers will decide in Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET/5 PT, FS1), Murphy saw something entirely different. Turner had developed into the heart of the Dodgers' still-here-in-spite-of-everything lineup, a player reborn and -- though the sample is brief -- an early candidate for one of the better postseason hitters of this decade.
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"He should be hitting third for a playoff team," said Murphy, Turner's teammate from 2010-13 in New York. "He had a monster year."
Over 151 games for the Dodgers, by far his most as a professional, Turner hit .275 with a career-high 27 homers, swapping out some of the contact that made him a useful bench player in New York for pure, brute, right-handed power. This postseason, he is 5-for-11 with a home run, four walks and three RBIs, raising his career playoff slash line to .469/.564/.750. No one in baseball history with as many October plate appearances as Turner's 39 owns a higher postseason batting average or on-base percentage.
"It's all about taking good at-bats and not trying to do too much," Turner said. "I think when you try to do too much or get out of character, that's when things go sideways on you."
This is not who Turner was supposed to be when the Reds selected him in the seventh round of the 2006 Draft, nor when he bounced from there to the Orioles and Mets. Though Turner gained some traction in New York, the Mets non-tendered him in 2013 instead of shelling out $1 million to keep him. Things went sideways; accusations flew in the media about his nightlife habits, staining the overwhelming reputation he had crafted as a popular clubhouse presence.
It was a reality check at age 29 for Turner, who spent his winter working alongside former Mets teammate Marlon Byrd and his personal hitting coach. (Earlier this season, Byrd accepted a 162-game ban for a second positive performance-enhancing substance test.) Turner learned more about sports psychology and nutrition. He also transformed his hitting approach, looking to drive the ball instead of slap singles.
His career in jeopardy, Turner hooked on with his hometown Dodgers on a Minor League deal for the 2014 season, made the team and hit .340 as a play-everywhere infielder. The following season, Turner added power to his profile, but he sustained a left knee injury that required microfracture surgery. Returning in Spring Training a different player once more, Turner was finally healthy enough to execute all he had learned in Los Angeles.
"He sure looks healthy right now," Murphy said. "He's a baseball rat. At this point, I would prefer to pick a fight with somebody else right now than Justin Turner."
The Nationals, of course, have no choice; the road to the NL Championship Series goes through the Dodgers, and the road through the Dodgers' lineup goes through Turner.
His career rebuilt, that's hardly the proposition it once might have been.
"Even when he was a bench player, utility player for the Mets, I always liked his energy and the way he interacted with his teammates, and the at-bat he gave you coming off the bench or days he would start," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So I always liked him. But to then see him from the other side as a starting player, and you see the toughness and the competitiveness, the success in the postseason … I think there's just more of an appreciation."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.