LOS ANGELES -- A difficult postseason for Justin Turner took a brutal turn on Wednesday when he sustained what the Dodgers believe is a Grade 2 left hamstring strain. Turner suffered the injury in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium, which the Braves won, 9-2, to take a 3-1 series lead.
The immediate timetable postgame was that Turner is expected to miss the remainder of the postseason, manager Dave Roberts said, noting that he was “obviously very disappointed.”
“We feel bad for Justin,” outfielder AJ Pollock added. “JT's a warrior. … You never want to see your teammate go down. He's giving everything he's got. … Injuries, they stink.”
With nobody out, the Dodgers trailing by 3 and Walker Buehler -- pinch-running for Albert Pujols -- on first base, Turner grounded a 2-2 cutter from A.J. Minter to second, an easy double-play ball for Ozzie Albies. Turner began limping as he approached the first-base bag, favoring his left leg. Roberts and a team athletic trainer came out to talk to Turner and accompanied him back to the dugout.
Normally an offensive force in October, Turner has hit 4-for-34 (.118) with eight strikeouts and one RBI through 10 playoff games (nine starts) this year. Including the one on Wednesday, he’s grounded into three double plays. But even though Turner has struggled, the options to replace him are thin for a team already without first baseman (and occasional third baseman) Max Muncy.
Following Turner’s exit, Chris Taylor -- who started the game in left field before moving to center field -- took over at third base. Taylor will likely serve as L.A.’s third baseman in Game 5 on Thursday, as he did in Game 2 on Sunday, which Turner didn’t start due to a neck stinger. Other players on the Dodgers’ active roster with appearances at third base this year are Matt Beaty (six games), Gavin Lux (one game) and Will Smith (one game).
While a substitution for Turner’s roster spot has not yet been decided, Roberts mentioned infielder/outfielder Zach McKinstry, outfielder/first baseman Billy McKinney and infielder Andy Burns as players who were “in the mix” for the job. According to MLB’s postseason roster rules, Turner must be replaced by another position player, meaning the Dodgers could not use this as an opportunity to add another arm to their bullpen.
After Turner, McKinstry had the second-most games played at third this year. In 60 games across four Major League stints, McKinstry slashed .215/.263/.405 with seven home runs. He fared better with Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he slashed .272/.368/.510 with seven homers in 40 games.
Then there’s McKinney, who was on the roster for the NL Division Series but was left off the NLCS roster as the Dodgers opted to bring a fuller bullpen. McKinney, designated for assignment by the Brewers in May and again by the Mets in July before being traded to the Dodgers, slashed .146/.276/.232 in 37 games with Los Angeles. He appeared in Games 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the NLDS as either a defensive substitution at first base or a pinch-runner, striking out in his one at-bat.
Burns is easily the most surprising name Roberts mentioned. The 31-year-old appeared in just nine games for the Dodgers this season, which was his return to MLB after five seasons bouncing around between the Minors, KBO and the Australian Baseball League. In 15 plate appearances between his June 12 callup and getting optioned to Triple-A on June 23, Burns had three hits -- including his first in the Major Leagues -- and three walks. He appeared in two games at third base for the Dodgers, but it was his primary position in the Minors.
Regardless who gets the spot, though, the Dodgers’ roster is about to become undeniably weaker without Turner -- even if he didn’t live up to the lofty postseason standards he’d set for himself over the past six years. With the team on the brink of elimination, the timing couldn’t be much worse.