Do the Giants have the most to gain from Manny’s suspension?

For at least a moment, let’s put away all of the Manny-Ramirez-disgraced-the-game headlines and talk a little baseball, shall we?

Who stands to gain the most from Manny’s 50-game suspension? Your answer might be the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers are the best team in the NL West regardless whether or not Ramirez is in their lineup. Andre Ethier is absolutely raking at the plate, Orlando Hudson is getting on base like it’s his life mission and 24-year old Chad Billingsley (5-0, 2.21 ERA, 42 Ks) is pitching like a Cy Young candidate.

The loss of Manny certainly hurts, but it’s not like the Dodgers have been a one-man wrecking crew in amassing the league’s best record to this point. Guys like Ethier, Hudson, James Loney and a couple of live arms in the starting rotation are good enough to compete in a weak NL West with or without Ramirez.

But there’s no question that having Manny in the lineup makes Ethier, Hudson and Loney better, while Juan Pierre (Ramirez’s sub in left field) is a massive drop off in every offensive category outside of stolen bases. The bottom line is that the Dodgers are a better offensive club with Ramirez in the lineup – much better.

Heading into Friday’s action, the Dodgers own a 5.5-game lead over the Giants, a 7.5-game lead over the Padres and 8.5-game leads over the Diamondbacks and Rockies in the NL West. Arizona can’t hit and is in turmoil after firing manager Bob Melvin, Colorado still has plenty of young talent but has been inconsistent to this point and one has to wonder if San Diego will stay competitive long enough not to be tempted to trade ace Jake Peavy in order to start building for the future.

That leaves San Francisco, who at 14-13 certainly isn’t a powerhouse, but it has enough pieces to make a run at the Manny-less Dodgers.

The Giants’ offense is absolutely horrid and they currently rank dead last in runs scored. Their lineup has zero pop outside of cleanup hitter Bengie Molina, they don’t have a true leadoff hitter (Fred Lewis is trying, but has already stated he’s uncomfortable with the role after batting third all spring), and their first basemen (Travis Ishikawa and Rich Aurilia) are hitting a combined .196.

But what’s intriguing about San Fran is its pitching staff, which currently ranks sixth in ERA and has given up the third least runs in all of baseball. Granted, the Dodgers have given up the least amount of runs and ranks second in ERA, but that’s why I made a point to state that they’re still the best in the division regardless of Manny’s absence.

The Giants’ pitching staff is comprised of three former Cy Young winners in Tim Linececum, Randy Johnson and Barry Zito (who is actually pitching very well this season despite being 0-2). Toss in two promising youngsters in Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez and the G-Men have one of the best starting fives in all of baseball. The bullpen isn’t spectacular, but if it can at least remain steady the Giants will be in most ballgames.

That said, the offense has to start producing. Outside of Molina and youngster Pablo Sandoval, the lineup is full of holes. Lewis is among the league leaders in strikeouts, Randy Winn is in the midst of a brutal slump and Aaron Rowand continues to fail to live up to the huge contract he signed last offseason. But the good news is that Edgar Renteria and Emmanuel Burriss are starting to come around at the dish and if manager Bruce Bochy could stop fighting his desire to play the veterans in the outfield, Nate Schierholtz has flashed potential as well.

The Giants and Dodgers are set to begin a three-game series tonight in L.A. Maybe this set will offer a small glimpse of whether or not the G-Men can hang with the Dodgers while Ramirez rides out his suspension. Either way, Giants-Dodgers is the second best rivalry in baseball next to Yankees-Red Sox and fans need something to get excited about in the wake of Ramirez’s 50-game absence.

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