Cabrera's suspension changes race

San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera has been suspended 50 games as the team battles the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants entered Wednesday tied for the NL West lead, but the race shifted dramatically before a pitch was even thrown.

Melky Cabrera, the Giants’ All-Star left fielder, is out for the season, and not because he is injured. No, Cabrera has been suspended 50 games without pay after testing positive for testosterone, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of baseball’s drug-testing program.

The suspension is effective immediately, with just 45 games remaining in the regular season. Cabrera would be eligible for the Giants’ sixth game of the postseason, if the team qualified and advanced. But realistically, he is done.

The minor-league seasons will be complete by mid-September, leaving Cabrera with no outlet for getting back into game condition. The Giants would need to leave a postseason roster spot open for him without knowing what he could contribute.

Not likely to happen.

This explains why the Giants were so desperate to acquire right fielder Hunter Pence before the July 31 non-waiver deadline; the team almost certainly knew of Cabrera’s pending suspension.

This also explains, at least in part, why Cabrera suddenly has emerged as an elite offensive player over the past two years, and especially this season.

Cabrera, 28, took responsibility for his actions, saying in a statement, “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used.” But he did just the opposite when Andrew Baggarly of asked him about rumors of a positive test just more than two weeks ago, denying that such a thing had occurred.

It’s impossible to know how much Cabrera’s use of performance enhancers contributed to his jump in OPS from .671 to .809 to .906 the past three seasons — or if he was using when he broke out with the Kansas City Royals a year ago, producing 201 hits. But suffice it to say that Cabrera was using testosterone for a reason.

His reputation is shot now that he is a confirmed, admitted user. He also can forget the big free-agent contract that awaited him at the end of the season — a five-year, $60 million deal probably was not out of the question.

Yet, that might be the least of it.

Cabrera’s suspension does not occur in a vacuum. It affects all of his teammates, the entire Giants’ organization, the fans who had rallied behind him in San Francisco.

The news comes at a time when the Giants were finally at full strength offensively after their trade for Pence and the return of third baseman Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list.

The Giants, since the All-Star break, lead the National League in runs per game. But barring a waiver trade or signing of a free-agent such as Johnny Damon, they will be left with an outfield of Pence in right, Angel Pagan in center and Gregor Blanco in left, with Xavier Nady in reserve.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, added shortstop Hanley Ramirez, left fielder Shane Victorino and reliever Brandon League at the nonwaiver trade deadline. They then got right-hander Joe Blanton in an August deal — and they continue to look for more help, despite winning eight of their past 11 games.

The suspension of Cabrera even gives fresh hope to the enigmatic Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered Wednesday 5-1/2 games back in the West and six back for the second wild card. The Giants are a half-game back in the latter race.

No wonder the Giants issued a statement Wednesday saying that they were “extremely disappointed” to learn of Cabrera’s suspension.

The club’s Opening Day payroll of $117.6 million was the eighth-highest in the majors. And now, thanks to Cabrera’s indiscretion, ownership’s investment is in serious jeopardy.

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