What Melky Cabrera's Suspension Does to San Francisco's Playoff Hopes

Steven GoldsteinContributor IAugust 16, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12:  Melky Cabrera #53 of the San Francisco Giants hits a two-run single driving in Angel Pagan #16 and Marco Scutaro #19 in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park on August 12, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Wednesday, San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was dealt a league-imposed 50 game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Cabrera, who still leads all of baseball with 159 hits, will sit out the rest of the 2012 season while the Giants' postseason chances are splayed with doubt.

Just a few hours after word of the suspension, the Giants dropped a 6-4 bout with the Washington Nationals, giving the Los Angeles Dodgers sole possession of the NL West.

Bruce Bochy and company suddenly find themselves with a frantic finger on the proverbial panic button, an entity normally saved for September or later.

The Giants have their work cut out for them with the .346 hitting Cabrera gone. The MVP of July's All-Star Game, Melky's 4.5 offensive wins above replacement mark is good for fifth in the league; his 4.7 total WAR slates him seventh among position players.

San Francisco faces a looming six-game road trip and will scramble to find production at the plate. The Giants play division rival Los Angeles six more times this year, and face fellow West foe Arizona in nine more games. Against the Dodgers this season, Cabrera was hitting .314, while compiling a torrid .462 average against the D-Backs.

Catcher Buster Posey, the Giants' other potent bat and presumed replacement for Cabrera's production, is batting just .222 against Arizona in 2012, and has a paltry .167 mark at Dodgers Stadium this year. His career .240 average in September certainly doesn't assuage fears of a late-season collapse either.

Recently acquired outfielder Hunter Pence will be expected to carry some of the load as well. Pence's power numbers may trump Cabrera's, but he trails Melky's .346 line by nearly 100 points. Pence hit just .217 in the month of July, and has posted a sluggish .177 thus far in August.

Stepping into Cabrera's No. 3 spot in the Giants' line-up will be corner infielder Pablo Sandoval, who's yet to hit a home run since the All-Star break. Filling out left field will be fourth-year pro Gregor Blanco, who boasts a pedestrian .251 career batting average.

Ultimately, a much thinner Giants offense steps into the box without Cabrera. What's hardest to stomach for the Bay's baseball liaison, however, is the clutch bat that Melky provided in 2012.

Before Wednesday's suspension, Cabrera posted a .429 average with the bases loaded. He was hitting .325 with runners on base, and .314 with men in scoring position.

Pence, meanwhile, touts a .245 mark with runners in scoring position this year. Sandoval's .234 isn't any more reassuring.

What the Giants now face is finding a replacement for Cabrera's role in the clutch as well as his ability to be a fire-starter and create innings from nothing.

Despite righty Tim Lincecum's struggles this year, the Giants' pitching staff remains dominant behind the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong. But without a sturdy offense, San Francisco could fade fast.

Even with Cabrera, the Giants ranked 17th in baseball in total scoring. Without him, that mark could plummet way further.

Removing Cabrera's 4.7 wins from the Giants puts them nearly six back of the Dodgers in the NL West. Of course, there are two Wild Card spots up for grabs, and to say the Giants are completely out of the running for a postseason berth would be outlandish.

Make no mistake about it, Cabrera's suspension is not a death sentence by any means.

What it is, however, is a splash of uncertainty for the orange and black. Uncertainty just may propel San Francisco to an elevated performance and a strong finish to 2012.

But uncertainty is of course, by nature, unnerving. With their team's top hitter shelved for the rest of the summer, Giants fans will be left to sweat it out.