WASHINGTON -- The Cubs know what kind of impact Trea Turner can have on a game, recalling June, when he swiped four bases against Jake Arrieta. The Cubs' goal in the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile will be to keep the Nationals' leadoff man off the bases.
"He's a game-changer," Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Turner, who finished third in the NL with 46 steals despite playing only 98 games. "With their lineup, it's 1-0 when he gets on, for the most part. Him, [Cincinnati's] Billy Hamilton, [Miami's] Dee Gordon -- those guys get on early, it puts pressure on the pitchers to hold them."
"If the opportunity is there to steal a base, I try to steal it," Turner said. "Different pitchers allow different amounts of time. I felt like I could steal off [Arrieta], so I did."
Miguel Montero was the Cubs' catcher in that June 27 game, and he expressed his frustration afterword.
"When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn't give me any time," Montero said. "It's like, 'Oh, yeah, Miggy can't throw anybody out.' Yeah, but my pitchers don't hold anybody on."
Montero was designated for assignment the next day, and eventually traded to the Blue Jays. The Cubs feel more confident in controlling Turner on the bases with Willson Contreras behind the plate. According to Statcast™, no one has averaged a higher arm strength behind the plate than Contreras this season (87.2 mph).
Whom does Turner focus on when he's on the bases?
"I would say it's the pitcher," Turner said.
"Always the best method is to keep him off base," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's the best way to corral somebody like him. ... There are some guys who are difference-makers when they get on the basepaths, like he is. At the end of the day, you still want to be more concerned with the guy at the plate, as opposed to the guy on the base. The better baserunner splits a pitcher's concentration. You don't want it split to the point where the hitter gains an advantage."
Chicago's Jon Lester, who will start Game 2 on Saturday, has a reputation for not being able to hold runners, but Turner disputed that.
"He's not slow to the plate," Turner said. "Time-wise, he's not that slow. Actually, he's average, if not above average, on times to the plate. That doesn't mean you can't steal against him."
Nationals first base coach Davey Lopes will be keeping an eye on the Cubs' pitchers.
"It's not as easy as everybody thinks it is. Otherwise, it would be like a track meet, everybody's gone as soon as they get on first base," Lopes said. "You have to be a little bit careful because of [Lester's] slide step. We'll see how it goes when we get there. If there's something that can help us, we'll use it."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.