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Trea Turner’s second career cycle underscores his utmost value to Nationals

Trea Turner rounds third during his first-inning home trot Tuesday night. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Standing by the field during batting practice last week, at Camden Yards in Baltimore, a high-ranking member of the Washington Nationals was listing reasons the team’s season had been suddenly saved.

That’s when it was suggested, flippantly, that Max Scherzer may be a most valuable player candidate for what he did in June and early July. But the official cut that off mid-sentence before the thought had a chance.

“How could he be when Trea Turner is the MVP of this team?” he asked. “I think I mean that.”

Trea Turner, the Nationals’ 26-year-old shortstop, will not be in the NL MVP mix. Let’s start right there. But taking the word “valuable” on its face — one Merriam-Webster definition is “of great use or service” — makes it not so crazy to consider Turner peerless in Washington’s clubhouse. On Tuesday night, in an 11-1 win over the Colorado Rockies, he hit for the cycle with a home run, single, triple and double, in that order. He became the 26th player in history to do it twice, and first in Nationals history from 2005 to present, showcasing his speed and power, his quick hands, his ability to spray the ball over the field and rev the offense in all kinds of ways.

Baked into the cycle alone were the many shades of Turner: With his leadoff homer, his eighth of the season, he gave Washington a lead with rare pop for a middle infielder. On his single in the second, he used speed to reach on a hit that never left the infield. On his leadoff triple in the fifth, he set up a rally (even if he wasn’t scored) and again pressed the Rockies with his legs. And on his double, finishing off a historic night, he came up in a two-out RBI situation and didn’t waste it. He now has a .286 batting average, .837 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and ranks eighth in the league in stolen bases, with 20, despite playing in just 60 games.

Need a broader illustration of his value? Turner missed 39 contests with a broken right index finger, from April 3-May 16, and the Nationals went 17-22. He has played in every game since returning, 56 straight, and Washington is 35-21 in that stretch.

“I know there’s not really a backup shortstop for the most part, majority of the time, so I know I’m going to be penciled in every day,” Turner said when asked if he appreciated being off for Monday’s rainout. “I take pride in that as well, as they feel comfortable with me playing so that we don’t always need a guy.”

Those records above — before Turner’s injury, and after — cannot be presented without full context. The Nationals have had baseball’s best record since May 24 for a number of reasons. Their still-shaky bullpen went from flammable to passable. Their rotation has been nothing short of dominant. The lineup finally got to full-strength by mid-May, with Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Matt Adams also returning from the injured list. But what Turner provides with his bat, glove and arm is something Washington cannot replace. There’s mounting evidence of that.

When Turner was sidelined, the Nationals filled his spot with Wilmer Difo and top prospect Carter Kieboom. Difo, once their “super utility” guy, struggled defensively, couldn’t hit and was replaced by Kieboom in late April. Then Kieboom had his troubles, somewhat expected for a 21-year-old, making four errors and hitting .128 in 11 games. So Turner returned as an all-around upgrade and plugged back in atop Washington’s order. He couldn’t make a fist with his right hand when he did, and was hitting with that right index finger hanging off the bat. He’d often toss his bat into the netting behind home plate after he swung. Some throws sailed high and wide of first, a side effect of the injury and time off.

But he was on the field and has been since. That’s what matters most.

“You can tell defensively and offensively how valuable a guy like that is,” Matt Adams said after Tuesday’s win, the Nationals’ 21st in 29 games. “He can cover so much ground up the middle and how he puts together good at-bats at the top of the lineup. He’s a rally-starter, he gets on base and keeps the line moving.”

Only one player has hit for the cycle three times. Turner knew right away that that’s Adrian Beltre. He feels it’s cool to be in that sort of company, or close to it, but also recognized that getting four hits to bounce right requires a bit of luck. That was his way of dampening a rare achievement Tuesday night. He couldn’t keep the charade up for long.

Because Turner didn’t just complete the cycle in a vacuum Tuesday. He didn’t just poke hits around Nationals Park and benefit from a good bounce or two. He showed again, loudly, that Washington goes as he does, and maybe more than any of its players. That’s on a club with Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle and Juan Soto, who could all make their case to be team MVP to this point of the season. Turner’s is only growing.

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