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Dodgers are counting on Corey Seager for a big postseason

Dodgers are counting on Corey Seager for a big postseason
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager prepares to go to bat during a game against the Rockies on Sept. 15. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Corey Seager appears so utterly unflappable that Teddy Roosevelt would have loved him.

Speak softly and carry a big stick. What could better describe Seager's play than Roosevelt's legendary adage?

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That is what made Seager's first October so extraordinary. He was flustered.

Not by the opposing team, but by his own. He had spent one month in the major leagues. He walked into the clubhouse for the playoff opener against the New York Mets and glanced at the lineup card.

He was startled. He was batting third. No one had alerted him ahead of time.

"Nerve-racking," Seager said. "I'd never really hit third for them. It was a new experience, for sure."

He struck out in four of his first six at-bats. The Dodgers benched him for one game. He finished the series with 16 at-bats, eight strikeouts and three hits.

As the Dodgers open the playoffs this year, Seager has established himself as the most valuable player on his star-studded team, and perhaps in the league. The question is not whether he will win National League rookie of the year, but whether the vote will be unanimous.

None of the Dodgers' position players have finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Seager might better that in his first year.

"It's such a league of adjustments that often times you see a guy get off to a really good start and suffer through a number of months," said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. "Some make that adjustment more quickly. Others take a little more time.

"To really, almost on a daily basis, evolve to what the league was trying to do to him was incredibly impressive."

Seager has accomplished so much at such a young age — he is 22, six years younger than the Dodgers' World Series drought — that the veterans are not only grateful for him but protective of him.

Justin Turner cut off any discussion of Seager's postseason woes last year.

"It was one series," Turner said. "I don't put a whole lot into it. He's an incredible player, and I think he's going to be just fine this year.

"I don't think we need to try to build up any story about last year's postseason."

Seager successfully navigated a potential clubhouse minefield last September, when the Dodgers called him up and handed him the shortstop job. That meant putting Jimmy Rollins — an MVP, World Series champion and 17-year veteran — on the bench.

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"He has lived up to the hype," Rollins said.

The way he tells it, Seager was so quiet in the clubhouse last fall that Rollins did not remember he was on the team some days until he saw him in the dugout.

"That's just respect for those who have come before you," Rollins said. "That doesn't happen a lot. He's handled himself well. He's handled his rise well. He's handled the L.A. lights well."

Corey's big brother, Kyle, the third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, said his brother might play on Hollywood's team, but he is far from a Hollywood guy.

The Dodgers could sell Clayton Kershaw, and Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig. Seager could slip into the background, or at least as much as a 6-foot-4 shortstop could.

"He's never wanted to be the big personality there," Kyle said. "There's enough personality over there, and L.A. is such a big market, and there are so many crazy things going on.

"It's good for him to follow around the Utleys and Kendricks and go that route."

Chase Utley won a World Series when Seager was in ninth grade.

"For being as young as he is, he's got an old-school mentality," Utley said. "He plays the game and lets his actions speak louder than his words."

Seager might respect his elders, but he is not above needling them.

In spring training, Seager started taunting Utley about his graying hair. Come on, old man, would you dye your hair if you hit two home runs in a game?

It was a running joke until August, when the Dodgers traveled to Philadelphia. Utley had played for the Phillies for 13 years, but he never had played there as a visitor.

"I just thought it would be cool to see the young Chase Utley come back to Philly," Seager said.

Two home runs in your first game back, and a dye job. Bet?

Utley took the bet. He hit two home runs, and the Dodgers dugout went nuts. Babe Ruth called his shot, and Seager called Utley's shot.

The Dodgers are calling on Seager now. They could not care how softly he speaks, but they need him to carry a big October stick.

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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