LA technically has not clinched a playoff spot, MLB clarifies

Dodgers’ Justin Turner, right, is congratulated by Will Smith after hitting a grand slam against the Padres on Sunday in San Diego. (Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press)

The Dodgers are not officially playoff-bound, after all.

Although Major League Baseball had initially recognized the Dodgers as clinching a playoff spot with their 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres on Sunday — with playoff hats being passed out in the clubhouse, a congratulatory tweet from MLB’s official account and an “X” being briefly placed next to their name in the official online standings — the league had to backtrack on Monday because there are still three- and four-way tiebreakers that still exist.

The Dodgers now need one more win (or one more Milwaukee Brewers loss) to officially punch their ticket. They can still clinch the NL West as soon as Tuesday.

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

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” manager Dave Roberts said Sunday. “I feel our best baseball is yet to be played.”

As the team closes in on a drama-free stretch run with a division lead of 20 games and an eight-game edge for the National League’s top seed, here are four takeaways on where they stand.

Justin Turner’s hot streak continues

A notoriously slow starter, Justin Turner’s season-opening slump was starting to look like something more after a dismal first three months of the season.

From the beginning of April to June 28, the 37-year-old was batting just .217. He had a dismal OPS of .634 and just four home runs. And although he had 38 RBIs, there was speculation that his best years had finally passed him by.

Since then, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball — and maybe the best in the Dodgers’ loaded lineup.

In his last 44 games, the third baseman is batting .371. After a two-home-run game on Sunday, which 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 time.

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

When pressed for specifics about those changes, Turner did not reveal much.

He said for him, tweaks to his swing might not look very obvious, but he’s found a feel at the plate that has enabled him to stop “missing pitches that I shouldn’t miss.” An example was the down-the-middle cutter from Craig Stammen that he launched for his grand slam Sunday.

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

Roberts said it has all added up to what he called “as good a stretch” as he’s ever seen out of Turner, whose season-long batting average (.277) and OPS (.798) both rank fifth on the team.

“Even when he was struggling, he was still one of our leaders in driving runs in, and he took his walks,” Roberts said. “So now you’re kind of adding on the slug, it’s pretty special.”

Joe Musgrove clarifies comments

There was something else that happened to Turner on the last day of June when Padres ace Joe Musgrove made some seemingly direct comments about Turner’s then-slump at the plate.

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

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

Justin Turner runs the bases after hitting a solo home run off 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 huge threat.”

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

And during Turner’s offensive explosion Sunday — which included a third career home run off Musgrove, something Turner has done to just four other pitchers — on-field cameras appeared to capture several of his teammates yelling out “not a threat” from the dugout.

Postgame, the three-month-old comments became a topic of conversation.

Turner brushed those questions aside and joked that, had they been any legitimate motivator for his recent performance, “I’d ask people to say stuff about me a lot sooner in the year.”

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

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

Roberts had not been aware of the situation before Sunday. But when he was informed of Musgrove’s comments, he seemed surprised.

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

Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger bounce back

One of the coldest Dodgers hitters entering this weekend was Chris Taylor, who snapped out of his slump by going 4 for 12 in the series against the Padres, including a home run on Sunday.

Perhaps more importantly, the outfielder only struck out twice in three games, a positive sign coming off a 13 for 83 stretch that had 38 strikeouts in his previous 25 games.

“I thought he was taking better swings, making better contact,” Roberts said. “He elevated the ball to the side a couple of times [Sunday]. Even his outs yesterday were hard outs. It’s good to see.”

Cody Bellinger was mired in an 0 for 22 rut before getting two hits on Sunday, pushing his season-long batting average back over .200.

Like with Taylor, it will be important for the Dodgers to try and get Bellinger going down the stretch as well.

The team is still hopeful both can be key to their postseason plans, as they were last year with clutch October performances.

For that to happen, they’ll need more days like Sunday out of both.

Max Muncy to keep stepping back

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 hasn’t been just one thing behind Max Muncy’s mid-season turnaround, there may be no bigger factor than the new back-foot plant step he takes before each swing.

The only problem is the new move led to some knee irritation this week that necessitated a pain-relief injection and sidelined him for two days.

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

“[There is] no concern long term,” said Roberts. “It’s more going to be a nuisance.”

Would Muncy, who is batting .274 with 10 home runs since adding the step back in late July, consider getting rid of it?

“I don’t think he’s going to change that,” Roberts said with a sly smile, “because of the performance.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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