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By turning big leagues into Little League, Trea Turner sparking Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Thanks to Trea Turner, The Washington Nationals are starting to look like a Little League team. In a good way.

Prior to Friday’s series opener against the Colorado Rockies, Turner and the first-place Nats lined up in folding chairs out by second base and posed for their annual team picture, Little League style. Then, the baby-faced rookie sparked his team to an 8-5 win by essentially getting his inner 12-year old on and playing running bases.

Leading off the third inning with the score tied 1-1, the 23-year old speedster hit a bouncer to the left side and beat it out for his 10th infield hit in just 39 games. Shortstop Cristhian Adames rushed the throw, which sailed over first baseman Stephen Cardullo for an E6, allowing Turner to take second on the play. On the very next batter, pitcher Jeff Hoffman tried to pick off Turner at second, but second baseman Daniel Descalso dropped the throw for an E4 and Turner dashed to third. One out later, Turner scored on a Daniel Murphy groundout to first … with the infield in … without a throw.

Technically, it didn’t count as a steal of home (which Washinton’s leadoff hitter has already done once this season), but when you factor in everything that Turner did to manufacture the go-ahead run, it kinda did.

But wait, there’s more.

Leading off in the seventh inning with the Nats up 4-2, Turner hit another bouncer to the hole between short and third. This time, Adames didn’t rush the throw. But perhaps he should have, because Turner beat it out for another infield single. Five pitches later, Turner swiped second. It was his 16th steal of the season and his 16th since the All-Star break (fourth most in MLB). On the play, Colorado catcher Nick Hundley was in such a hurry that he hurled the ball into centerfield for an E2, permitting Turner to take third. Jayson Werth doubled on the very next pitch to score Turner, the first of four runs that inning that broke the game open.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three errors that Turner single-handedly forced. Heck, on that last play -- the wild throw by Hundley -- if center fielder Charlie Blackmon had tried to gun Turner down at third like center fielders often do on plays like that, we might have had an E8. In which case, we might have heard the Rockies go all Little League in their own right and start chanting: “E2, E4, E6, E8 … who don’t we appreciate? Turner … Turner … Treaaaaa Turner!!!

The rook’s running-bases show was simply the latest jaw-dropping example of how his game-changing speed has impacted the Nationals.

“Speed kills,” said manager Dusty Baker, whose club is averaging a full run more per game (5.6 r/g, up from 4.6) since Turner became the everyday leadoff hitter on July 24. During that time, Washington has increased its lead in the NL East from 4.5 games to 8.0 games. “When you can run, you make people rush. And if people rush in this game, most of the time they're not themselves and most of the time they're going to make mistakes. There’s no substitute for speed.”

"White lightning," pitcher Gio Gonzalez called his young teammate.

Not that Turner is just a one-dimensional roadrunner. Yes, he ran 6.2-second 60-yard dash in college (almost unheard of). Sure, he has used his flying feet to help transition from shortstop (where he played in the minors) to center field in no time flat since being called up last month. But his impact goes way beyond wheels.

“He’s making us go right now,” said outfielder Werth.

So far, the former first-round pick out of NC State is batting .341 with 19 extra-base hits (9 doubles, 6 triples, 5 homers) and a .903 OPS. Earlier this week, he tied a Nats/Expos franchise record by getting hits in eight consecutive at-bats. Despite not becoming a regular until after the All-Star break, he’s already accounted for 2.2 WAR this season -- in just 39 games.

That’s almost impossible to do. In fact, of the 49 NL position players who’ve tallied at least 2.2 WAR this season, Turner is the only one who’s played fewer than 97 games. And he’s played a lot fewer – 58, to be exact. Here’s another way to look at it: If you project Turner’s value over a full season, it comes out to 9.1 WAR, which would be higher than current league-leader and MVP favorite Kris Bryant (6.6 WAR heading into Saturday's action, which projects out to 8.4 over the full 2016 season).

“That's somebody that's super special,” said Bryce Harper. “We know what we've got in him. I was thinking tonight, imagine if he was up in May, June, and July or before that. We might have already ran away with this thing. Having him at the top of the lineup, there's nobody like him. It's a lot of fun to be a part of, a lot of fun to watch.”

Kind of like a Little League game.