Our long national, dreadlock-less, fewer-dumb-Dodger-fielding-errors nightmare is over. Manny Ramirez has finished serving his 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance and returns to the Dodgers this weekend for a three-game series against the Padres.
Manny returns to a National League where the Dodgers are the elite, and the best of the rest are all 7-to-8 games back. And the best record of those 7-to-8 games back teams belongs to our own Giants, wild card leaders and owners of the second-best record in the NL.
Yes, if the Giants played in either the NL Central or the NL East, they'd be going into July 4 weekend in first place. As of Friday morning, they're a game-and-half up on the NL East-leading Marlins and Phillies, and a half-game up on the Central-leading Brewers.
Despite their unexpected strength in the standings, Henry Schulman points out in the Chronicle that the Giants actually fell back on the Dodgers during Manny's suspension. They were six-and-a-half games behind the Dodgers when Manny began his suspension, and seven-and-a-half games back as he returns.
More vexing, though, is the way the Dodgers' hitters have stepped up in Ramirez' absence. Juan Pierre is batting .332, with plenty of additional power coming from Casey Blake and Orlando Hudson. And now the best team in the league is getting their best hitter back. You expect Manny's bat will be a little groggy at first, and he won't be back to full "being Manny" strength until maybe early to mid-August.
Unfortunately, the Giants don't play the Dodgers again until early to mid-August. The Giants are 4-5 against L.A. so far this season, but that's factoring in a three-game sweep in L.A. very early on. The two teams face one another for nine more regular season games, Aug. 10-12, Sept. 11-13, and Sept. 18-20. That means a pair of three-game series with the Dodgers right in the home stretch of the wild card run.
There's plenty of ammunition for fans to taunt and distract Manny, whose 50-game suspension was for use of a female fertility drug. ("Hey Manny! Kate Gosselin called! She wants her pills back!") You'd like to think you could break his concentration. But it is impossible to break Manny's concentration, because Manny never concentrates anyway.
The Giants themselves aren't thinking much about Manny. "The only time you focus on him is when you're playing that team," Randy Winn told MLB.com. "We have to keep doing our job. We can't worry about who's hurt and who's back, things like that. There's no denying that the Dodgers have played well this entire season, with Manny and without Manny. But we need to focus on us."
The Dodgers would have to suffer some sort of collapse with Manny back for the Giants to challenge them for the NL West lead. But the emergence of pitcher Matt Cain -- and maybe some more surprise gem-throwing from Ryan Sadowski -- could mean that the Giants are in this playoff hunt to stay.
So the Giants' playoff hopes depend on their ability to continue playing above-.500 ball, and holding their own in some later season series against these very Dodgers. And they can't depend on Ramiriez being suspended again for using female fertility drugs.
Because that would just be "Manny Being Womanny".
Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who asks that you please not bogart his ovulation pills.