Dodgers takeaways: Streaking Justin Turner once again a threat

The Dodgers aren’t officially tied to the playoffs, after all.

Though Major League Baseball initially recognized the Dodgers as a playoff spot with their 11-2 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday — with playoff hats distributed around the clubhouse, a congratulatory tweet from the official MLB account, and a ” x”. to be placed just to the side of her name in the official online rankings – the league had to back down on Monday because there are still real three- and four-way breakers.

The Dodgers now need one more win (or another Milwaukee Brewers loss) to officially stamp their ticket. You can still win the NL West on Tuesday.

Either way, it won’t dampen the club’s spirits after leaving San Diego with another series win over the Padres.

“There is still a lot to do,” said manager Dave Roberts on Sunday. “I think our best baseball has yet to be played.”

As the team heads toward a drama-free stretch run with a 20-game lead in the division and an eight-game lead for the top seed in the National League, here are four takeaways where they stand.

Justin Turner’s hot phase continues

Justin Turner, a notoriously slow starter, looked up for something more after the dismal first three months of the season.

From early April through June 28, the 37-year-old batted just .217. He had a dismal .634 OPS and just four home runs. And even though he had 38 RBIs, there was speculation that his prime had finally passed him by.

He’s been one of baseball’s best hitters ever since — and perhaps the best in the Dodgers’ loaded lineup.

In his last 44 games, the third baseman batted .371. After a two-home run game Sunday that included his second career grand slam, his OPS in that stretch is 1.057, third-best in the majors among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances during that stint.

“He’s very consistent with his body, his mechanics and how his swing works,” Roberts said. “They cleaned up some things and from that point on he was on fire.”

When Turner pressed for details about these changes, he didn’t reveal much.

Speaking for him, adjustments to his swing might not look very obvious, but he’s found a feel on the plate that allows him to “miss lengths of play that I shouldn’t be missing”. One example was Craig Stammen’s down-the-middle cutter, which he launched for his Grand Slam Sunday.

“There’s a lot of things that go into hitting, so it’s hard to put your finger on one thing,” he said. “But just bats, confidence and results have helped feed that.”

Roberts said it all added up to what he described as “the best it’s ever been” at Turner, whose batting average (.277) and season-wide OPS (.798) both rank fifth on the team.

“Even when he was struggling, he was still one of our leading riders at driving runs and he’s doing his walks,” Roberts said. “So now you add the snail, it’s pretty special.”

Something else happened to Turner on the last day of June, when Padres ace Joe Musgrove made some seemingly direct comments about Turner’s collapse at the plate at the time.

“When he’s in the box, I don’t feel like he’s a big threat,” Musgrove said after a June 30 start against the Dodgers, a day that Turner had three hits, including two home runs.

Justin Turner leads bases after hitting a solo home run by Padres' Joe Musgrove in the fifth inning Sunday in San Diego.

Justin Turner leads bases after hitting a solo home run by Padres’ Joe Musgrove in the fifth inning Sunday in San Diego.

(Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press)

“He’s a good hitter,” Musgrove continued. “He’s done a lot of damage to the teams I’ve been on in the past. But out of all the guys in that lineup, I didn’t feel like he was a big threat.”

As Turner has since heated up, the first part of Musgrove’s quote has been widely shared among Dodger fans on social media.

And during Turner’s offensive blast on Sunday — which also included a third career home run off Musgrove, something Turner has done to just four other pitchers — on-field cameras appeared to catch several of his teammates shouting “no threat” from the dugout.

After the game, the three-month-old comments became the topic of conversation.

Turner brushed those questions aside, joking that if they had been a legitimate motivator for his recent performance, “I’d ask people to start saying stuff about me much earlier in the year.”

Musgrove said, “I don’t know why everyone’s making such a big deal out of it.” He tried to clarify that he just meant that he didn’t see Turner as the biggest threat in a Dodgers lineup that features other All-Stars and alumni MVPs was littered.

“When I said that, it wasn’t like that [with] Intentions that I think he’s a… [bad] baseball player. It’s not at all,” Musgrove said. “I’ve played against him for a long time now and he was always a good hitter. … [It’s just] there were other guys I was a little more worried about. And he got me that day, and he got me again [Sunday]. So yes, it is what it is.”

Roberts had not been aware of the situation prior to Sunday. But upon learning of Musgrove’s comments, he seemed surprised.

“Oh god,” Roberts said. “I think he might want to retract that.”

Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger hit back

One of the coldest Dodgers hitters to compete this weekend was Chris Taylor, who bounced back from weakness by winning 4-for-12 in the series against the Padres, including a home run on Sunday.

Perhaps more importantly, the outfielder only hit twice in three games, a positive sign from a 13:83 stretch who has had 38 strikeouts in his previous 25 games.

“I thought he would swing better and make better contact,” Roberts said. “He raised the ball pull side a couple of times [Sunday]. Even his outs yesterday were hard outs. It’s good to see.”

Cody Bellinger was mired in a 0-for-22 rut before hitting twice on Sunday and pushing his batting average back above .200 all season.

As with Taylor, it will be important for the Dodgers to try to get Bellinger on track as well.

The team still hopes both can be key to their postseason plans like they were last year with October’s performances.

To do this, they need more days from both of them, like Sunday.

Max Muncy to step down again and again

Max Muncy watches his two-run single against the San Diego Padres.

Max Muncy watches his two-run single against the San Diego Padres.

(Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press)

While there wasn’t just one thing behind Max Muncy’s midseason turnaround, there may be no greater factor than the new rearfoot planting step he takes before each swing.

The only problem is that this week’s new move resulted in a knee irritation that required a pain relief shot and sidelined him for two days.

However, when Muncy returned to the lineup for a three-RBI performance on Sunday, his step backwards was still part of his mechanics, something he and Roberts believe he can continue to do for the rest of the season without issue.

“[There is] don’t worry long term,” Roberts said. “It will be more of a nuisance.”

Would Muncy, who is hitting .274 with 10 homers since adding the back step in late July, consider getting rid of him?

“I don’t think he’s going to change that,” Roberts said with a mischievous smile, “because of the performance.” Dodgers takeaways: Streaking Justin Turner once again a threat

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