In every corner of the Dodgers' clubhouse over the last few days, variations of the same idea were repeated over and over.
Sure, we're a better team with Manny, but . . .
". . . We still have a good team," James Loney said.
". . . We still have eight good hitters out there," Matt Kemp said.
". . . I think we could do something special even without him," Eric Stults said.
But can the Dodgers win without Manny Ramirez?
That's the question facing the team over the length of Ramirez's 50-game suspension, which started Thursday and ends July 3.
The Dodgers lost their first two games of the season's No Manny Period, but Game No. 3 offered signs of promise.
They defeated the San Francisco Giants, 8-0, at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, as Eric Stults threw their first shutout of the season, which was preserved by a spectacular diving catch by Kemp in the ninth inning. The announced crowd of 41,425 fans stood to applaud the grab, temporarily forgetting that You-Know-Who wasn't in the ballpark.
"It's nice to get to normal," General Manager Ned Colletti said.
But "normal" with Ramirez in the lineup was anything but normal.
The Dodgers had a major league-best record of 21-8.
Ramirez, who signed a two-year, $45-million deal in the spring, was a major reason why.
As the Dodgers' No. 3 hitter, he was leading the National League with 26 walks, eight of them intentional, and an on-base percentage of .492.
He was hitting .348 with six home runs and 20 runs batted in.
By one statistical measure, Ramirez was the fourth-best run producer among players with at least 100 plate appearances through Friday's games.
Ramirez had a Marginal Lineup Value rate (MLVr) of .632, according to Baseball Prospectus. The figure calculates the additional number of runs per game a player would contribute to a lineup that otherwise consisted of average offensive performers.
Ramirez had a PMLVr -- runs per game contributed by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would hit on a team of otherwise league-average hitters -- of .539.
Ramirez's replacement in the starting lineup, Juan Pierre, had a PMLVr of .243 -- and that was with Pierre batting .378 through Friday.
Over 50 games, Ramirez would be expected to contribute 15 more runs than Pierre, assuming Pierre maintains his current level of production.
What does this mean?
Depends on the perspective.
Until the Dodgers acquired Ramirez last season, they were essentially a .500 team that had trouble scoring runs.
But the inexperience that was blamed for the lack of offensive production is no longer an issue, according to players and coaches. A large part of that is because of the chance they got to play with Ramirez.
"We had him and had a chance to learn and regain some of that confidence that led us to where we're at right now," said Andre Ethier, who was moved into the No. 3 spot in the lineup that was previously Ramirez's.
Without Ramirez, the Dodgers will have less power.
"Of course, we don't have the big dog in the lineup," Orlando Hudson said. "But we have guys capable of hitting 25 or 30" home runs.
Third base coach Larry Bowa said that a problem the team had in its pre-Manny days last season was that when it struggled offensively, everyone slumped together.
"They didn't pick each other up," Bowa said. "Everybody tried too hard. They now know what they're more capable of."
That's what it looks like.
The Dodgers lost to Washington in their first game without Ramirez but they scored nine runs, including six in the first inning. They scored four runs in the first two innings of Saturday's game.
And it's not as if the Dodgers are devoid of veteran leadership.
Playing third base is 35-year-old Casey Blake, who was acquired shortly before Ramirez.
Manager Joe Torre has often cited the addition of Blake as last season's turning point and said his presence would be particularly valuable at this time.
"Very important," Torre said of Blake. "It's all about coming to the ballpark and going to work. This game, if you allow it, is filled with highs and lows. You have to really save that stuff for postseason. The season is a long season. You can't have one game affect another game in a negative way. He's about as right on that line as anyone I've ever been around."
Then there is Hudson, the Gold Glove second baseman the Dodgers signed this spring. Bowa contends that Hudson's glove will be crucial, particularly if the Dodgers find themselves in more low-scoring games as he predicts.
Are these Dodgers a better defensive team than they were last year?
"No question," said Bowa, a former shortstop who won two Gold Glove awards as a player.
It's not only because of Hudson.
Kemp is developing into a highlight-producing center fielder. Russell Martin is improving as a catcher.
And with respect to defense, the Dodgers might benefit from Ramirez's absence.
"Manny's very serviceable out there," Bowa said. "But if anything, Juan can cover more ground."
The better the Dodgers defend, the better they should pitch.