The Dodgers have gotten off to a fantastic start, winning 21 of their first 30 games, including each of their first 13 at home before last night's loss to the Nationals. With none of the other four teams in the NL West getting off to even remotely comparable starts, that leaves the Dodgers six games clear of the rest of the division, and a whopping nine ahead of the team most picked to finish second back in March, Arizona.
Los Angeles' big early lead, along with the fact that they pretty clearly look like the best team in the division, had led some to declare the race over, even before Mother's Day. Obviously, losing Manny Ramirez for the next 50 games changes that equation a bit. But how much?
One way to look at it is to see how Ramirez's absence will effect the odds of L.A.'s games. Conveniently, we can see exactly what happened to the line on their game Thursday night when the suspension was announced. Playing at home against the Nationals, they had been significant favorite (-157/+149). Then, a little bit before 1PM, it suddenly shifted, to -144/+136. That is a significant jump; with the former line, the Dodgers would be expected to win 60.3 percent of the time; with the latter, 58.2 percent.
Projected out over the full 50 games of Ramirez's suspension, that amounts to just over one win. That may not seem like much, but it's probably a pretty good estimate. If you consider him a "poor" fielder, the CHONE projection system has him as being worth 3.6 wins over the full year, or 1.11 over 50 games.
That's all assuming that Ramirez's at bats will be going to "replacement level" substitutes, but in this case that's a pretty accurate assumption. Both Juan Pierre, who filled in for him in left on Thursday night, and Xavier Paul, who was called up from Triple-A to take Ramirez's place on the roster, are right around there; guys who get on base at a decent clip, but don't provide nearly the amount of power expected from the left field position, and are nothing special in the field.
According to Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds, the Dodgers had an 84 percent chance of winning the division as of Thursday morning, without taking the suspension into account. Docking them about .010 of win percentage for the loss of Ramirez for 50 games (which is derived from the calculations detailed above) brings them down to 80 percent; even without their best player, they're still in excellent shape.
In fact, because of the money saved by not having to pay Ramirez's salary for almost two months, the Dodgers have a chance to improve themselves over the remainder of the season. He was scheduled to make $25 million this year, which works out to $7.7 million over 50 games.
They will likely lose some money in souvenir sales, and probably attendance, but L.A. could potentially take some of that money and improve the back-end of their rotation, possibly by signing someone like Pedro Martinez or even Ben Sheets, if he proves to be healthy later in the year. Losing Manny is obviously a huge story, but it's really not going to have that big of an effect on the Dodgers' season between the lines.