MILWAUKEE -- As Justin Turner goes ... you know the rest.Since his emergence as an offensive, defensive and clubhouse difference-maker in 2014, the Dodgers have had players with grander contracts and glitzier celebrity, but none have made as much of an impact and garnered as much peer respect as the
MILWAUKEE -- As Justin Turner goes ... you know the rest.
Since his emergence as an offensive, defensive and clubhouse difference-maker in 2014, the Dodgers have had players with grander contracts and glitzier celebrity, but none have made as much of an impact and garnered as much peer respect as the 33-year-old third baseman, who begins his third consecutive National League Championship Series when the Dodgers and Brewers meet on Friday night at Miller Park.
The magnitude of Turner's presence in the Dodgers' lineup was proven this year when he wasn't in it.
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The Dodgers were 59-35 (.628) with him and 33-36 (.478) without him. Had they played .628 ball all season, the Dodgers would have had the best record in the NL, as they did last year, and they would have home-field advantage instead of starting on the road. If they had played .478 all season, they would be watching this series at home. Turner hit .357 with a .929 OPS in the NL Division Series against the Braves.
"Our record with him and without him, it's not a fluke," said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "He makes us that much better."
No stranger to having his body beaten up by the game, Turner missed the first quarter of the season with a broken left wrist suffered in Spring Training, then a right adductor strain cost him 10 days at the end of July.
It's no coincidence that the team's low-water mark of nine games out of first place on May 8 came when Turner was sidelined. And the Dodgers' best stretch of the season (11-2) happened with Turner on the field.
"Almost because I've seen how our lineup works with him and without him, it's been a big part in convincing me that at-bat quality is contagious," said Zaidi. "A guy that has a good approach and works good at-bats, it seems to permeate through the lineup. When he's in there, guys make opposing pitchers work harder because of the example he sets. His presence, his awareness, being vocal in our meetings, it all has a big impact."
Manager Dave Roberts said Turner had an MVP-caliber second half (slash line of .356/.447/.619), but acknowledged that Turner lacked the strength to drive the ball until he returned from the adductor injury in early August.
From his May 15 return from the wrist injury until he went on the disabled list July 23 with the adductor, Turner had only five homers and 20 RBIs in 50 games. In the 53 games that followed, he had nine homers and 32 RBIs.
"The time he was off with the adductor gave the wrist more of a chance to heal," Roberts said.
Turner didn't have enough time off last October between the NLCS and the World Series, when he was rumored to have suffered a training injury. He said then and has since insisted he was fine, but Roberts acknowledged Turner wasn't.
"He was banged up," Roberts said earlier this year. "He probably won't share with me or with you. But from the trainers, he was very banged up. But he'll never admit to it. He still won't. That's his character and that's what's so cool about him."
A postseason masher, Turner hit .160 in a World Series the Dodgers lost by one game. Oh, what might have been?
"One of many hypotheticals we ask about that series," said Zaidi. "Having him, it would be fun to play that one back with him at 100 percent."
Turner calls team meetings, participates in game-planning, even flew to the Caribbean and recruited Kenley Jansen to re-sign with the club two years ago. Playing in pain? Just part of the job.
"I know we've played deep in the postseason the last couple of years and a little bit longer than other teams, but when it gets to this point and you get to the postseason, all those aches, pains, the mental grind, that kind of goes out of the window," Turner said. "And you're playing off adrenaline, and you're seeing the prize, you're seeing the target, keeping your eye on that. And that's what motivates you when you're kind of beat down, run down, is everyone in the room knows what we're playing for."
Clayton Kershaw paid Turner the ultimate teammate compliment this spring.
"Not letting people know you're [playing hurt], that is probably the biggest thing," said Kershaw. "Anybody can play hurt and you get that sympathy from guys. Some guys have to have that built-in crutch or excuse. You wouldn't know with him, same like Chase [Utley]. J.T. doesn't show it, he just goes out and plays. We all go through stuff. It's the guys that just go out and play that ultimately get the respect of their teammates. He's definitely done that."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.