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Corey Seager says his breakout playoff performance incomplete without a Dodgers title

Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is congratulated as he returns to the dugout after hitting a home run in the fourth inning.
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is congratulated as he returns to the dugout after hitting a home run in the fourth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This isn’t the postseason Corey Seager imagined for himself. Not yet, anyway.

He’s collected clutch hits and clobbered game-changing home runs. He’s set personal highs and all-time records. He’s finally healthy and hot at the same time. And yet, only a ring will make these playoffs complete.

“The whole goal is to win,” Seager said Friday night, having authored his most signature performance yet with two home runs in the Dodgers’ elimination-evading Game 5 win over the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series.

“We haven’t done that yet. So regardless of what you’re doing, if you don’t win at the end of the year, it’s not the same.”

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Kenley Jansen’s performance in the Dodgers’ win over the Atlanta Braves begs the question: Should the Dodgers trust him again to deliver late in games?

Seager, however, hasn’t looked the same either. In postseasons past, he has battled injury and inconsistency. This year, his only real challenge has been living up to the expectations set by his resurgent 15-home run and team-leading 41-RBI regular season.

With each new round, he has exceeded them a bit more.

His lone hit in the wild-card series was a big one: a seventh-inning homer in Game 1 that put the Dodgers’ lead over the Milwaukee Brewers out of reach.

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In the NL Division Series against the San Diego Padres, he hit better than .300 in a playoff series (four for 11) for the first time in his career, highlighted by a Game 2 performance in which he recorded three hits including two doubles and two RBIs in the Dodgers’ one-run win.

In the NLCS, he’s pushed the bar even higher. He recorded a double, a home run and at least three RBIs in both Game 2 and Game 3. After going 0 for four in Game 4 — snapping a career-best five-game playoff hitting streak — his two long balls Friday made him the first shortstop in Major League Baseball history with four home runs in a single playoff series and the first Dodgers player with 10 RBIs in one playoff round.

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According to ESPN, he’s also only the fifth player in MLB history with at least four homers and 10 RBIs in a postseason series.

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“It’s been amazing,” leadoff hitter Mookie Betts said of having Seager right behind him in the batting order. “I didn’t know much before I came over. I just knew he was a good shortstop, could swing it a little bit. Getting to see him day in and day out is definitely a blessing. I have really one job and that’s just to get on base and stay there pretty much until he hits me in, which doesn’t take too long.”

Manager Dave Roberts gave the 26-year-old shortstop even loftier praise.

“He’s healthy, he’s been healthy, he’s had a tremendous year, the experience that he’s had in the postseason — all that stuff is lining up right now,” Roberts said. “For me, there’s just no better player.”

Indeed, Seager’s 2020 postseason stats — .342 batting average, .409 on-base percentage, .842 slugging percentage, five home runs, 14 RBIs — are a stark contrast to his previous October output:

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2015: .188/.235/.250, 0 home runs, 0 RBIs

2016: .205/.255/.364, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs

2017: .237/.348/.395, 1 home run, 6 RBIs

2018: Did not play

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2019: .150/.190/.200, 0 home runs, 0 RBIs

In 2015 he was a 21-year-old rookie with only 27 games of MLB experience. In 2017, he hurt his back in Game 3 of the NLDS and didn’t return until the World Series. He missed all of the 2018 playoffs after undergoing Tommy John surgery. And he never found a groove in 2019 after spending most of the offseason rehabbing from a hip procedure.

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Highlights from the Dodgers’ 7-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS on Friday.

This year, there’s no handicap on his health, no governor on his game.

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This postseason, he’s crushed fastballs, hitting .381 with five extra-base hits against the pitch, and worked a team-best 18.8% walk rate against breaking balls and off-speed pitches. His 1.251 on-base-plus-slugging is the best among National League hitters who have played more than three games.

And if the Dodgers can turn this NLCS around — and keep Seager’s dream of a World Series title alive — there’s little doubt who the team’s most valuable player of the series would be.

“It’s win or go home,” he said, brushing aside questions about playoff pressure almost as quickly as those about his personal stats. “It’s simple. There’s no extra pressure.

“We know what’s at stake and it’s every game in any series. It’s just winning that day. It’s not looking forward. It’s about tomorrow and winning.”

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