Corey Seager sat on a podium, without a smile, and with the uncomfortable look of someone who would prefer to be anywhere but there. The National League Championship Series was about to start, and Seager had to discuss the injury that meant the series would go on without him.
“This sucks,” Seager said.
The Dodgers dropped Seager from their NLCS roster because of what they said was a strained lower back, an injury that occurred on a slide last Monday, in the final game of the division series. Seager finished that game — “adrenaline,” he said — but had an MRI examination and received an epidural injection the next day.
“He has progressed, but not rapidly enough where we felt comfortable with the risk,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
The Dodgers hope Seager can return for the World Series, if they get there. In the meantime, their starting shortstop in Game 1 of the NLCS was Charlie Culberson, a good fielder who spent most of the season in triple A and was not on their NLDS roster.
Cubs pitcher Jon Lester compared the impact of the Dodgers losing Seager, a premium offensive player at a critical defensive position, to the Cubs losing Kris Bryant.
Bryant is the reigning NL most valuable player. Seager is the reigning NL rookie of the year, an All-Star in each of his two full seasons.
Seager said he has not been able to run or swing since the injury and that his NLCS role would be limited to “trying not to be a distraction.”
In addition to Culberson, the Dodgers could play Enrique Hernandez or Chris Taylor at shortstop. Hernandez and Taylor each started in the outfield on Saturday, but the Dodgers added outfielder Joc Pederson to their NLCS roster so they had the option of using Hernandez or Taylor in the infield.
Culberson was not in the Dodgers’ initial wave of September call-ups. The Dodgers promoted him on Sept. 4, as Seager missed time because of a sore elbow. Culberson started on the day he arrived, then just once more the rest of the season.
Hernandez and Taylor split the rest of the starts in Seager’s absence, and even Logan Forsythe started a game at shortstop. Culberson, the Dodgers’ best defensive shortstop and their insurance against a serious injury to Seager, started Saturday after batting only twice in 20 days.
“We can’t predict Corey to get hurt in Game 3 [of the NLDS],” Roberts said.
The saga triggered an exchange of gamesmanship allegations between two teams whose managements do not much care for one another. The Cubs did not announce Jose Quintana as their Game 1 starting pitcher until Saturday morning — in part, Maddon said, because the Cubs needed to make sure he was prepared to pitch.
The Cubs’ plane had been diverted to Albuquerque on Friday when Quintana’s wife became ill, and he had accompanied her to the hospital there for her examination.
“There was no intention to be disingenuous,” Maddon said.
The Dodgers did not announce their lineup until three hours before game time, after Roberts had completed his pregame news conference. The Cubs announced their lineup almost an hour earlier.
“There’s a little gamesmanship going on, I think,” Roberts said. “It took a long time to get theirs over to us.”
Seager said he would not travel to Chicago in this series, instead remaining in Los Angeles to receive treatment on his back.
However, the Dodgers’ diligence in roster manipulation left their opponent wondering whether they might try to activate Seager later in the series, which would require an injury to a player on the NLCS roster. The Dodgers’ announcement of Seager’s injury said that he would “miss the NLCS” and also that he was “considered day-to-day.”
“Who knows if he’s going to be available at some point during the series?” Maddon said.
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