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Are Giants Sunk Without Melky Cabrera?

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Hunter Pence will probably start hitting at some point, but losing Melky Cabrera for the rest of the season really hurts the Giants' pennant chances.

Melky Cabrera #53 of the San Francisco Giants hits a home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Melky Cabrera #53 of the San Francisco Giants hits a home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The San Francisco Giants are going to miss Melky Cabrera.

The Giants' every-day left fielder currently leads the first-place Giants in singles, doubles, and triples. For that matter, he leads the whole National League in hits.

The Giants' every-day left fielder is also currently suspended for 50 games, the result of a failed drug test.

Oh, and first place? It's tied for first place, actually.

Which is why this one really does matter. Usually when a player is lost for six or seven weeks, no matter how good the player, we doubt if his loss will ultimately make a material difference. After all, few postseason berths are lost by a game or two, and few players are worth more than a game or two over the course of six or seven weeks.

This one might be different, though.

Entering Wednesday's games, with the Giants hosting the Nationals in the afternoon and the Dodgers visiting the Pirates later -- here's what the National League West standings looked like:

L.A. 64-53 +29
S.F. 64-53 +27

These two teams could not be more even, in terms of wins and losses and run differentials. We certainly can't assume they'll go into the season's final series still battling for first place ... but really, how much would you bet against that? How much would you bet against them being within three games of one another when October dawns, and the Giants arrive at Dodger Stadium for that last three-game series?

I wouldn't bet much. And the simple truth is that the Giants just went from having three really good hitters -- Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey, and Panda Sandoval -- to having two.

I said really good. We like Brandon Belt (even if Bruce Bochy doesn't). Angel Pagan is playing well this season. And Hunter Pence ... well, you have to think that Hunter Pence is going to start hitting. Sort of. Eventually.

And speaking of Hunter Pence, now it makes a lot more sense, doesn't it? Before the Giants traded for Hunter Pence, they had four useful outfielders: Cabrera, Pagan, and occasional platoon mates Nate Schierholtz and Gregor Blanco. Absent Pence, platooning Schierholtz and Blanco seemed perfectly sensible, with those two providing roughly the same production that Pence might, in a full-time role.

Nevertheless, the Giants traded for Pence, sending Schierholtz (and others) off to Philadelphia in the deal.

Which now makes a certain amount of sense. Without Pence or Cabrera, the Giants would have been reduced to playing Blanco and Schierholtz nearly every day. Which wouldn't have been good for anyone except the Dodgers. Still, they could really use Schierholtz right now ... did the Phillies really want him so badly?

Oh, and yes ... I'll have more about this a little later, but apparently the Giants have known about Cabrera's failed drug for quite some time, and management had to assume that Cabrera would draw a significant suspension.

Upon the suspension, the Giants still had 45 games on their regular-season schedule. Cabrera's 50-game suspension carries into next season or into the postseason, if the Giants do qualify. Assuming they do advance to the National League Championship Series, Cabrera would eligible for most or all of that.

It's been widely assumed, though, that he won't be in "game shape" in October, if only because there won't be anywhere for him to play while he's waiting. I'm not sure I buy that. It seems to me that a healthy player should, somehow, be able to shag enough fly balls and hit enough good pitching, somewhere, to prepare himself for immediate action when he's eligible to play.

Which doesn't mean the Giants would necessarily want him back. If they do beat the odds and ace out the Dodgers without one of their best players, they might prefer to dance with what brung them to the postseason. One way or another, it seems likely that we've seen the last of Melky Cabrera in a San Francisco Giants uniform.