'Red-hot' Seager the star of stars in October
When the Dodgers engaged the Tribe in trade talks for Francisco Lindor last winter, they weren’t thinking that Corey Seager, the shortstop Lindor would have replaced, would become the biggest reason the franchise is one victory away from winning the World Series.
Management was just looking for a game changer. Lindor would have reportedly cost top prospect Gavin Lux, and the Dodgers passed. They tried to sign elite free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole, but he chose the Yankees.
In February, management pivoted and landed a bigger game changer in Mookie Betts from the Red Sox, and the Dodgers wouldn’t be where they are without the 2018 American League MVP Award winner, who can impact games in endless ways.
But with all due respect to Betts or even Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena, Seager has been the star of stars this postseason.
Seager won the National League Championship Series MVP by going 9-for-29 (.310) with five homers and 11 RBIs against the Braves. He set NLCS records for homers and RBIs, and his seven extra-base hits tied Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez (1996) for the NLCS record.
Now Seager is a contender to become the eighth player to win MVP honors in both the LCS and World Series. Through five games, Seager is 8-for-17 with two homers, four RBIs and a .471/.609/.824 slash. He has been flawless in the field and heads-up on the bases, as he showed in Game 5 on Sunday night when he alertly advanced twice on wild pitches that Rays catcher Mike Zunino kept in front of him. That led to the Dodgers’ second run.
Seager is hustling up the record charts, too. His three career World Series homers are tied for the most as a shortstop with the Astros' Carlos Correa and the Yankees' Derek Jeter; and his eight homers are more than any shortstop in a single postseason and one behind Arozarena for most in one postseason for any position. For a single postseason, Seager's 50 total bases are second; his 12 extra-base hits are fifth; his 19 RBIs are tied for second, as are his 20 runs second.
“He’s red-hot,” said Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, the starting pitcher who stands between the Dodgers and a ring on Tuesday. “I saw MLB did a bat with flames. They’re pretty correct. When you see the ball and you’re feeling that way, he’s gonna do that. He’s swinging a hot bat, he’s confident, he’s a really good player. When a batter is hot, you have to make excellent pitches.”
Seager is an impact player again, as he was when, at the age of 22, he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016. He was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger Award winner in each of his first two full seasons in the Majors, and he burst onto the scene with big league family history (brother of Seattle’s Kyle), a sweet left-handed swing and shortstop skills despite a 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame.
Before the Dodgers’ batting order could boast a pair of MVPs, before Max Muncy became a homer machine and before the arrival of next-big-thing Will Smith, Seager was the foundational uber-prospect upon which a dynasty would be built. Perhaps you remember that Seager.
But in 2018, Seager broke, requiring Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and labrum surgery on his left hip, leaving the club wondering why a 24-year-old’s body was coming apart and whether he would hold up going forward.
A slimmed-down Seager led the NL with 44 doubles in 2019, with 19 homers, 87 RBIs and an .817 OPS -- “an OK season,” he called it -- after which he found himself facing an offseason in unusual condition -- healthy -- yet rumored to be replaced.
Seager put on muscle, reported to Spring Training this year in one piece and stayed that way during another breakout season that has even picked up steam in the postseason. Combine the regular season and postseason and Seager has upped his game for a 40-homer-season pace. What were doubles last year have been home runs in this one.
“The whole goal is to put some barrels on the baseball and hope good things happen,” Seager said. “Sometimes it turns into doubles, sometimes it turns into home runs. I’ve never been the guy that’s going up there trying to just hit home runs.”
Seager attributes most of his improvement to being mechanically sound. His manager said part of the credit for that goes to Seager adjusting his work ethic, but not like you think. Dave Roberts said Seager used to work too hard, spend too much time in the batting cage. Consequently, he wore his body out.
“He’s not an over-worker anymore,” said Roberts. “He’s working more with a purpose, more efficient. Before, there was anxiety, and a lot of players feel like, 'I can’t work enough.' Sometimes there’s diminishing returns. I think he’s understood his body with that.”
Roberts said Seager’s dramatic improvement from past postseasons -- his career postseason slash line before 2020 was .203/.275/.321 -- has an equally logical explanation.
“As far as the postseason, at times they’re going to try at times to not throw strikes to him, because of how dangerous he is,” Roberts said. “He’s been as good in the zone this postseason by far as he’s ever been.”
A free agent after the 2021 season -- as part of an overflow class of available shortstops that includes Lindor -- Seager shrugged off the trade rumors this year and focused on winning a championship.
“It didn’t bother me,” Seager said earlier this year. “Maybe surprise is a better word. You try to not look into it that much. Just prepare for the season with the team you’re with, and if it happens, it happens. I tried to stay out of it as much as possible.”