On the morning of the opener of the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers announced that All-Star shortstop Corey Seager would not play because of injury. Cubs pitcher Jon Lester likened the impact on the Dodgers to how the Cubs might have been hurt had they lost Kris Bryant, the defending NL most valuable player. ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski calculated that the injury had reduced the Dodgers’ chance to win the series from 57.0% to 49.9% — in other words, “Dodgers favored” to “toss up.”
The only toss the Dodgers might have to worry about at this point: Who will toss the ceremonial first pitch at Game 1 of the World Series?
The Dodgers have not missed a beat, or a victory, without Seager. Chris Taylor, Tuesday’s replacement shortstop, homered and tripled and drove in two runs in a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers lead the series three games to none; their next victory clinches their first World Series berth since 1988.
“This team hasn’t relied on one guy the whole season,” third baseman Justin Turner said.
Depth wins in the regular season, but stars win in October? Don’t try telling that to the Dodgers, who had no hits Tuesday from perhaps their three most potent offensive threats — Turner, Cody Bellinger and the injured Seager — and won by five runs.
None of the players that drove in a run — Taylor, oft-injured outfielder Andre Ethier, third-string catcher Kyle Farmer and pitcher Yu Darvish — were on the Dodgers’ opening day roster.
“[Clayton] Kershaw went down, Corey went down, J.T. went down, Cody went down,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “Gonzo [Adrian Gonzalez] was down the whole year. We don’t let that stuff bother us.
“That’s what’s special about this team. Whoever went down, we just try to pick them up.”
In the three games of the division series, Seager batted .273, with one extra-base hit and a .455 slugging percentage.
In the three games they have played in the league championship series, the Dodgers’ shortstops — Taylor and Charlie Culberson — have batted .400, with four extra-base hits and a 1.100 slugging percentage.
The sample size is small, but the formula has been so successful that the Dodgers need not junk it for the World Series, even if Seager is available.
In September, before he injured his back but after he reported pain in his elbow, he said throwing caused discomfort but swinging did not. In the World Series, the Dodgers could play three games under American League rules, which would give the team the option to use Seager as a designated hitter.
Taylor became the first player in postseason history to hit a home run as a shortstop and center fielder — and he did it in the same series. The Dodgers have used eight leadoff batters this season; Taylor solidified the spot in the second half.
“He’s really a spark plug at the top of the lineup,” Turner said. “Ever since he got put in that leadoff spot, he’s been a game-changer for us.”
When he reported to spring training this season, he had played 2,400 professional innings — none of them in center field. He became the starting center fielder on the team that posted the best record in the major leagues.
After Culberson played shortstop in the first two games of the series, Taylor started there in Game 3. To count him as a depth player might not be entirely fair, since he did not come off the bench, or the inactive roster. He simply moved from center field to shortstop for the game.
So Joc Pederson, inactive for the division series, came off the bench to replace Taylor in center field for Game 3. He doubled.
This is how the Dodgers roll. When Pederson was asked, breathlessly, about the importance of veterans like Chase Utley and Curtis Granderson steadying the Dodgers on the eve of a possible World Series, Pederson shrugged. Next man up, and no man gets too excited.
“Everything,” Jansen said, “is just going right for us.”
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