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Culberson softens blow, but Dodgers hurting without Corey Seager

Corey Seager turns a double play as J.D. Martinez of the Arizona Diamondbacks is out at second base during Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 6 (Getty Images).

LOS ANGELES — Of all the players the Dodgers could least afford to lose, Corey Seager is up there with third baseman Justin Turner and first baseman Cody Bellinger. He might be at the top of the list.

Of all the players expected to figure prominently in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Charlie Culberson would have been at the bottom of that list. He didn’t expect to be on the roster for the NLCS, but there he was, right behind Yasiel Puig in the lineup, manning shortstop and playing a starring role Saturday in the Dodgers’ 5-2 victory.

Culberson’s performance helped, at least for a day, to lift a dark cloud over Dodgerland that settled in when Seager was left off the NLCS roster with a lower-back sprain suffered making a normal slide during Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Diamondbacks.

An unexpected, terrible break for the Dodgers. Seemingly quite the fortunate break for the Cubs.

“Seager’s really good,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the game. “They’re going to definitely miss him, no question.’’

For how long was the question of the day and will be for the week. Seager received an epidural injection and hasn’t been able to do much of anything physically baseball-wise.

“Yeah, this sucks, to be honest,’’ he said.

Enter Culberson, who spent most of the season at Class AAA and made one start at shortstop for the Dodgers during the season. He followed the electrifying Puig’s RBI double by battling out of an 0-2 count and lifting a low pitch from Jose Quintana for a game-tying sacrifice fly in the Dodgers’ two-run fifth. And in the seventh, after Puig’s homer made it 4-2, Culberson doubled to left to set the stage for a Maddon blowup.

“Yeah, we trust Charlie,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s a part of what we’re doing right now, and he’s a heck of a player.’’

Culberson scored the Dodgers’ fifth run without touching home plate, sprinting from second base on Turner’s single to left and getting called out on a strong throw by Kyle Schwarber and good tag by catcher Willson Contreras. After a challenge and review, Culberson was called safe because Contreras’ foot had crossed the baseline, not allowing a lane to the plate for the runner.

Maddon ran out to plate umpire Lance Barksdale, pointing to four umps and getting ejected. Culberson celebrated in the dugout.

“Corey Seager is a big part of this organization,’’ Culberson said. “Everybody knows it; I know it, too. I’m going to go out and prepare like I’m playing a regular baseball game. Take a deep breath and have some fun.’’

A left-handed .295/.375/.479 hitter with 22 home runs and 77 RBI, Seager watched all the action from the bench, where he usually watches the Dodgers lose — they were 11-16 when he did not start, 93-42 when he did.

His loss is akin to the Cubs losing Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, Cubs Game 2 starter Jon Lester said.

Seager is not going to Chicago with the Dodgers for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) and said he’s hoping to return for the World Series.

If Seager makes quick progress, and the Dodgers put another player on the disabled list during the NLCS, he could be activated, but the player they put on the DL would not be eligible for the World Series. If Seager tries playing during the NLCS and has to be replaced on the roster because of an injury, he would be ineligible for the World Series.

“I think next week is going to be kind of a big week to see if I can get back into baseball activities,’’ he said. “But right now, I’m really not sure.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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