CHICAGO — Dusty Baker had a long talk with Trea Turner Tuesday morning before Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and Cubs was rained out. The conversation with his struggling 24-year-old shortstop veered into a history lesson. Baker told him of the time Orlando Cepeda, then the MVP, struggled in the playoffs. He recalled Dave Winfield, another Hall of Famer, once had a terrible World Series. He told him of his personal struggles, of the time he hurt his hand in a fight before the 1981 World Series, couldn’t swing a bat, and played anyway.
“It’s not the first time that a guy has had a tough playoff,” Baker said.
Turner isn’t a Hall of Famer or even an all-star yet, but Baker’s impetus for a chat is clear: Turner is the Nationals’ energizer bunny and his struggles are crippling their offense. The Nationals hoped Turner’s speed would disrupt the Cubs, who have a couple of pitchers notorious for their inability to control the running game. But Turner hasn’t reached base in the playoffs yet. Through three NLDS games, he’s 0 for 12 with five strikeouts, including one with the bases loaded in Game 2. As Turner has said, you can’t steal first base. His game-changing speed has been wasted.
“I haven’t been nervous for a pitch this series,” Turner said. “I’m focusing on ways to contribute to the team. Play some defense. If I can get on base, that’d be great, but I haven’t so I got to focus on other things and focus on my teammates, be a good teammate and hopefully we can turn this thing around.”
After Game 3 Monday, Turner said he’s made small adjustments “here and there” at the plate in the series to break through and put his speed to use. He nearly did in his final at-bat in the eighth inning Monday, but Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist made a diving stop on a groundball 79 mph off Turner’s bat.
“Things still gotta go your way,’ Turner said. “You still gotta find holes. Even if you hit the ball hard, you got to find the holes. Things aren’t going my way.”
If the lineup Baker unveiled for Game 4 Tuesday before it was postponed is any indication, Turner will have another chance atop the lineup again Wednesday against Jake Arrieta, who couldn’t contain Turner when they clashed in June in Washington. Turner singled in his first plate appearance and walked in his second against Arrieta. Each time he promptly stole second and third base for four steals in three innings. Arrieta would allow six runs (five earned) and walk six batters in just four innings.
After the game, Cubs catcher Miguel Montero criticized Arrieta, whose delivery makes him susceptible to base stealers, for his inability to neutralize Turner on the base paths. Arrieta agreed with Montero’s assessment, but Montero was designated for assignment anyway. So Montero won’t catch Wednesday. It’ll be Willson Contreras, who boasts one of the strongest arms behind the plate in baseball and picked Turner off first base in the first game of that four-game series back in June.
But base runners, Baker always says, steal bases off pitchers, not catchers. Turner could wreak havoc again and spark a Nationals offense hitting .121 through three games and on the brink of elimination. He just needs to get on base first.
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