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Column: Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager’s absence has been hard felt

Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor walks away after striking out in the sixth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor walks away after striking out in the sixth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When fans are almost three decades removed from celebrating their team’s last championship, they can become fatalistic.

Year after year after year, they have seen the promise of spring and the heightened excitement of summer produce only the crushing disappointment of winter, which explains the depth of anxiety beneath every groan and every boo heard Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers couldn’t do anything against Robbie Ray and served up four home runs to J.D. Martinez in a 13-0 defeat against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Watching that was painful enough, but that wasn’t the worst part.

For the first time this season, fans could picture the Dodgers losing in October.

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Once invincible, the Dodgers have dropped nine of their last 10 games. It’s as if the Russians hacked into general manager Farhan Zaidi’s laptop and spread the Dodgers’ secrets around the National League.

Except … well, everyone realizes it’s the first week of September, right?

Relax. Breathe. Stay calm.

There are times when panic is an appropriate response and this isn’t one of them. It’s important to understand the difference between a bad team and a team that’s enduring a bad stretch, and realize the Dodgers belong in the second category.

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The Chicago Cubs won two of their last 11 games heading into the All-Star break last year. They took a few days off, came back and resumed their run to the World Series.

The concern is understandable. These losses have been ugly. The timing has been less than ideal.

The defeats have magnified shortcomings that were covered up for the majority of the season: the dependability of starting pitchers other than Clayton Kershaw; the absence of shutdown middle relievers; the weakness of the bottom of the lineup. In other words, shortcomings shared by pretty much every other contender.

But take a step back and look at the larger picture. The Dodgers still have the best record in baseball. They have a 121/2-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the National League West. It would be almost impossible for them to miss the playoffs. They have an explosive offense and a steady defense. They have the best pitcher in baseball, as well as the best closer.

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The history of baseball tells us not to read too much into this.

Some teams have bludgeoned their opponents through September, maintained their momentum through the playoffs and won the World Series. Others have limped to the finish line of the regular season and produced the same result. The Kansas City Royals were a sub-.500 team in the final month of the 2015 season. The San Francisco Giants overcame a 3-8 stretch in September 2014.

In the Dodgers’ case, it’s important to recognize they are without their best position player, Corey Seager.

The All-Star shortstop, sidelined because of inflammation in his throwing elbow, last started a game Aug. 27. The Angels had trouble scoring when Mike Trout wasn’t in their lineup. Why wouldn’t the Dodgers when Seager is missing from theirs?

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The Dodgers are taking a cautious approach with Seager, as they should. These games really don’t matter. They will win the division. They should have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Seager played catch and fielded grounders before Monday’s game. Manager Dave Roberts said that he could return this week during a four-game series against the Colorado Rockies.

Roberts has insisted the recent losses aren’t a problem so long as they don’t alter how the team approaches games. He acknowledged that there is a point when the weight of defeats will have an effect.

“I know we’re not there yet,” Roberts said.

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You know when the Dodgers will be? When Seager has played for a couple of weeks and their offense still hasn’t recovered.

Until then, it’s hard to get worked up over any of this. If anything, the miracle is how this didn’t happen sooner.

“We’re doing the same thing that we were doing all year but the results are different,” Roberts said.

There’s nothing Roberts could have said to talk down the most vocal segments of the fan base, which went into full-blown panic mode on social media Monday night. Some of that hysteria made its way into the postgame news conference, as one reporter asked Roberts if he was thinking of moving up Kershaw’s next start.

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“I don’t think there’s anything I can say to soothe the fans and their passion,” Roberts said. “Each and every night, it’s Game 7.

“But I can assure you that we’re going to win a game again. I know that. The tide will turn.”

The fans should know that too.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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