WASHINGTON — Nobody is going to claim Trea Turner hasn’t produced since becoming a regular player with the Nationals.
Over parts of two seasons in the majors, Turner has put up a .292/.325/.486 line with 5 home runs, 15 stolen bases, 6 triples and 9 doubles. But that includes 44 plate appearances over 27 games, mostly at the end of an irrelevant season, last year. With the exception of two games in June, all of his at-bats this season have come since July 10. That’s 32 games in about 1.5 months — everyday player numbers.
Through his 34 games in 2016, Turner has a .310/.333/.531 line with 4 home runs, 13 stolen bases, 6 triples and 8 doubles. If those numbers were extrapolated over the duration of the season, Turner would have the third-best average on the team, behind Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos, and the second-best slugging percentage, behind Murphy. His OPS would also be just behind Murphy and Ramos, and he would easily lead the team in both triples and stolen bases, if his numbers were prorated.
And he just turned 23 years old.
Eddie Matz of ESPN.com joined The Sports Junkies on Monday morning to talk all things Nationals, and the dynamic Turner was, not surprisingly, a topic of conversation.
“Yeah, he’s been a huge difference-maker,” Matz said. “Everyone talks about Ramos, and Murphy obviously. [Anthony] Rendon’s been turning it on, and [Jayson] Werth had the big streak, but to me, Turner is the guy that has completely changed that lineup. … Since he became the everyday leadoff hitter, which was about a month ago, I think it was July 24, the offense has gone from 4.6 runs per game to 5.8 runs per game, which is second-best in the majors. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
“He’s doing everything you could ask out of a leadoff guy and more, with the exception of walking a bunch. He only has five walks against 32 strikeouts. So you’d like to see him take some more pitches and get on base like that, but if I were him I wouldn’t take pitches either, because he’s hitting everything. Doubles, triples, homers, stealing bags. He’s given them flexibility in the field, which has been huge because Zimmerman was hurt, so that allowed Murphy to slide over to first. He can play second, he can play center — I don’t think he’s in danger of winning a gold glove in center field any time soon, but just for Dusty Baker to know that he can put him out there, it’s huge, especially because [Ben] Revere wasn’t really producing.
“And now since Turner’s been doing his thing at the top of the lineup, I feel like Revere has started to relax a little bit. He’s so exciting to watch. Even like the routine ground ball to second base, when he hits it, you feel like he can maybe beat this out. He’s been a huge catalyst for them.”
Host John-Paul Flaim asked what the Nationals would do if Zimmerman got hot, and whether Turner would remain in the starting lineup at center field.
“Oh 100 percent. There’s no way right now — until he proves otherwise — there’s no way he can’t play. And that’s what we’ve seen over the past month. He’s played every day, Dusty finds a way to get him into the lineup. With the inter-league series, that’s even easier because you have a DH slot, so you’ve got one extra bat in there. And in the playoffs, if you want to be really optimistic and they up end making it to the World Series, it becomes a little bit easier there for some of the games. But that’s cart before horse. But yeah, there’s no question that he has to be in the lineup every single day right now, because he’s completely changed the offense.”
Turner, one of the fastest players in baseball, provides the closest thing to a true leadoff hitter the Nationals have had in years. He’s faster than Denard Span was, and he’s maybe faster and a better hitter than Ben Revere is. Revere has struggled this year and Turner has limited major-league experience, so that’s not a fair comparison at the moment, but with the way Turner has been hitting, it’s going to be very difficult to justify playing Revere over him down the stretch.