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Leader Watch: Turner eyes NL batting crown

Third baseman would be first Dodger since 1963 to win title
MLB.com

July was a heck of a time to be Justin Turner.

On July 6, fans selected the Dodgers' third baseman as the National League Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote recipient, punching his ticket to the Midsummer Classic. Twelve days later, after a 1-0 Dodgers win over the White Sox, Turner finally recorded the requisite 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for the league batting title. With his average above the clouds at a lofty .370 at the time, Turner found himself clear of second-place Daniel Murphy of the Nationals by 30 points in the NL race.

July was a heck of a time to be Justin Turner.

On July 6, fans selected the Dodgers' third baseman as the National League Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote recipient, punching his ticket to the Midsummer Classic. Twelve days later, after a 1-0 Dodgers win over the White Sox, Turner finally recorded the requisite 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for the league batting title. With his average above the clouds at a lofty .370 at the time, Turner found himself clear of second-place Daniel Murphy of the Nationals by 30 points in the NL race.

Turner has decidedly cooled off since then. He has hit .269 since he entered the batting race a little over a month ago, including Monday's 2-for-5 performance in the Dodgers' 6-5 extra-innings win over the Pirates. That leaves his season average at .341, and suddenly there's a race again in the Senior Circuit. Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon has surged in the second half, hitting .391 since the break to raise his 2017 average to .336 -- just five points behind Turner.

"He's hitting above .330 because he's using the whole field," Rockies manager Bud Black said of Blackmon last Friday after he led off Colorado's matchup against Milwaukee with a home run. "He's going line to line. He's got opposite-field power. He can hit the ball in the gaps. He battles well with two strikes."

Bryce Harper is 15 points behind Turner at .326, but his playing time the rest of the way figures to be limited as he rehabs from the bone bruise in his left knee. Murphy, who finished one point shy of Colorado's DJ LeMahieu for the NL crown in 2016, is lurking 16 points back of Turner with a .325 mark.

Turner may be "slumping" based on his early pace, but it's certainly a good time to be slumping. His team just put together the best 60-game stretch since the 1912 Giants, and the Dodgers are already just 19 wins away from claiming their fifth consecutive NL West title. But the cherry on top of one of the best regular seasons the Dodgers -- or any team for that matter -- have ever recorded could be for one of their players to win a batting title. It may surprise one to learn that through all the great Dodgers teams of the late '70s and early '80s, the '88 World Series champions and through today, no Dodgers player has worn the NL batting crown since Tommy Davis back in '63.

Davis hit .326 to pace the Majors in hitting that season before batting .400 in Los Angeles' World Series sweep of the Yankees that October. Turner will likely need to finish with an average higher than .326 to claim the crown this season, as Blackmon has not only his skill but his home park behind him as well. If Blackmon were to win, it would mark the 11th time in the Rockies' 25-year history that one of their players walked away with a batting title. Despite the Dodgers' long and proud history, and amid a season in which they've simply dominated the competition, Turner might be an underdog in this race over the final six weeks.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Justin Turner