PITTSBURGH — The tight battle between the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants for a postseason berth took an unexpected turn Wednesday.
Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, one of the National League's best hitters, was suspended for 50 games without pay Wednesday after testing positive for testosterone, one of baseball's banned performance-enhancing substances.
With fewer than 50 games left in the regular season, the suspension effectively ends his season — and provided an immediate lift to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers entered their Wednesday game atop the NL West, half a game ahead of the Giants, who lost earlier in the day to the Washington Nationals.
Cabrera was leading in several NL batting categories, including runs (84), hits (159) and multiple-hit games (52). He also was batting .346, second only to Andrew McCutchen (.359) of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The switch-hitting Cabrera was the most valuable player in last month's All-Star game in Kansas City, Mo., where he hit a two-run home run in the NL's 8-0 victory.
"My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used," Cabrera said in a statement. "I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life.
"I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down," he said.
Cabrera's suspension "has a huge effect" on the Giants' outlook, Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said before the Dodgers played the Pirates at PNC Park. "You take that out of anyone's lineup, it's going to be tough."
As Ethier spoke in the Dodgers' clubhouse, several of his teammates, including Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, watched the Giants and Nationals on television.
But Ethier cautioned that "you can't go out there and assume it's going to be easier because he's out," noting that the Dodgers hung in the race with Kemp missing 51 games this year because of a strained hamstring.
Kemp said that Cabrera was "a big part of their lineup, offensively" but that the Giants "still have some great hitters on that team," including Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval.
"They've still got people in their lineup that can do some damage, so you can't take them lightly," Kemp said.
The Dodgers have nine games remaining with the Giants in the regular season, including a three-game series at Dodger Stadium starting Monday. The rivals also play in the last three games of the season.
A few Dodgers said Cabrera's absence would have little bearing on whether the Dodgers reach the playoffs.
"I'm not worried about them, I'm worried about us executing against whatever lineup they throw out there," Manager Don Mattingly said of the Giants.
Before joining the Dodgers in 2008, Mattingly was a coach with the New York Yankees when Cabrera played with the Yankees.
Mattingly said that he was "a little bummed out because I know Melky's a good kid and I liked him a lot," but that the suspension highlighted the need for ever-improved testing.
"I hope it gets so good that you can't get away with anything and the guys know it," Mattingly said.
The Giants issued a statement saying they were "extremely disappointed" with Cabrera's suspension and that "we fully support" baseball's drug program.
Cabrera came to the Giants in a trade with Kansas City last November that sent pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals.