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Justin Turner zoning in on another strong finish

Los Angeles Dodgers v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Justin Turner homered in the Dodgers’ series opener against the Phillies on Monday night, continuing his solid September, hitting .293/.382/.603 in the regular season’s final month. Turner’s season has felt a little like deja vu, though with a noticeable twist in 2017.

Turner had one home run in his first 39 games and 162 plate appearances this season, and then missed 19 games with a strained right hamstring. Since his return from the disabled lit on June 9, Turner has 20 home runs in 83 games, hitting .296/.397/.561.

He mentioned in various interviews earlier this season that as the weather started to heat up, he thought more of his fly balls would turn into home runs, and so far he has been proven right. Just one of his 48 fly balls in the first two months (2.1%) was a home run, but since the beginning of June 14.6% of his fly balls have left the park.

If that looks familiar, it might be because Turner began 2016 with three home runs in his first 55 games and 214 plate appearances, through June 6. Then, the power started flowing, with 24 home runs over his final 96 games, hitting .301/.348/.575 through the rest of the regular season.

The seasons aren’t completely similar, since even without the home runs early in 2017 Turner was still productive at the plate, hitting .379/.453/.493 with 13 doubles during those first two months.

Another difference between this season and last is Turner’s improved strike zone control. In 2016, Turner walked 48 times and struck out 107 times. This year, he has 56 walks and 53 strikeouts. His strikeout rate went from 17.2% to 10.3%, and his walk rate went up from 7.7% to 10.9%.

“When you swing at balls in the zone you have a better chance of getting good results,” Turner succinctly explained last month.

Turner is one of just three major league players with enough qualified plate appearances in 2017 with more walks than strikeouts, along with Joey Votto (125 walks, 73 strikeouts) and Anthony Rizzo (86 BB, 83 K).

The last Dodgers player with 20 home runs and more walks than strikeouts was Nomar Garciaparra in 2006.

Turner still has an outside shot at the Dodgers’ first batting title since Tommy Davis in 1963. Entering Tuesday, Turner is hitting .323, trailing Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon (.332)*. They are far enough apart that a 4-for-4 game by Turner would put him at .3288, requiring an 0-for-6 from Blackmon to fall below (3284).

*Bryce Harper is still technically second in batting average, at .326, but with 472 plate appearances he could still fall short. Harper has been out since injuring his knee on Aug. 12, and will get at-bats in simulated games to prepare for the playoffs. Even if he returns to the Nationals before the end of the regular season, he will likely fall short of the 502 plate appearances required to qualify for the batting title (3.1 per team game played). Harper would be given theoretical hitless at-bats to get to 502 plate appearances should he fall short, making it unlikely he can keep up with Blackmon and/or Turner.

But back to Turner. He also has a .414 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage, looking to finish with the Dodgers’ first .400/.500 season since Gary Sheffield in 2001. It would be the 12th .400/.500 Dodgers season since moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

Pitching matchup

Yu Darvish looks to build on his seven scoreless innings from last Wednesday in San Francisco, while Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 13 of his last 16 starts.

Game info

Time: 4:05 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA, KTLA