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Giants believe change is for better

Giants believe change is for better

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There can be no doubt that the San Francisco Giants are entering a new era. The question is whether the new era will be a better era.

Much of the outside world has the Giants finishing not only fifth in the National League West, but a truly distant fifth, perhaps even more distant than the 19 games back of 2007 when they finished 71-91. The Giants are having none of this. They believe that between some truly talented young pitchers and a proven veteran core, they will be just fine.

"Nobody in here expects to be at the bottom of the barrel in the NL West," said Aaron Rowand, the Gold Glove center fielder, who came on board as a free agent. "We expect to be in the hunt. That's the outlook we're going into the season with. That's why we're here working as hard as we are. It's going to take a group effort, a collective effort."

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"If you look at the numbers, we were in virtually every game last year," said veteran outfielder Dave Roberts. "If we get the pitching that we're capable of getting, we're going to be in every game like we were last year. [Manager Bruce] Bochy has put a huge emphasis on the fundamentals, which we weren't good at last year. Hopefully, we can win those one-run and two-run ballgames that we didn't win last year, with better execution.

"[The NL West] went from a laughingstock to arguably one of the best divisions, top to bottom, in all of baseball, great pitching and talented players. Obviously, we've got our work cut out for us. But if you looked at last season and you went into the Arizona Diamondbacks' clubhouse or the Rockies' clubhouse, not many people were picking those guys to finish first and second. But that's the beauty of this game."

The Giants have, for instance, two of the most prized young pitchers in the game in Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Their position players are primarily at the other end of the baseball age spectrum, but they're uniformly reputable players and solid citizens. The addition of Rowand, a player justifiably known for his relentless effort, would be a plus move for any team.

Rowand had other clubs vying for his services in free agency. One of the factors that led him to the Giants was his absolute conviction that the Giants were headed in the right direction.

"In my experience in pro ball, good pitching is No. 1, good pitching always outdoes good hitting," he said. "We had a lot of great-hitting ballclubs in Chicago that didn't have the pitching and we came in second every year. The one year we won [2005] we had good pitching, good defense, and not so much the offense.

"The pitching staff here is young, they're going to be around, they're locked up four, five, six years down the road. They're going to do nothing but get better. We're looking to be real good. The prospects of what we're capable of doing not only this year, but down the road, the foundation is there."

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What the Giants don't have at the moment is a lot of middle-of-the-order thunder. This might be a good time to recall that Barry Bonds is no longer with this club. That means, at a basic level, less pop in the lineup and fewer reporters in the clubhouse. The Giants will miss the run production, but not the media throng that attended Bonds, his home runs and his controversies.

"Obviously, nothing against Barry as a person or a player, but it's a lot more relaxed now," Roberts said. "I think that anyone with his status, in all walks of life, they command that kind of respect and people are more uneasy. I thought he was a great teammate and he's a very good friend of mine, but it seems like now people can be themselves more so.

"It remains to be seen if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously, any time you lose a guy like Barry, it's a big loss. He's an incredible player."

The Giants clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday before the night game against the Chicago Cubs had plenty of pleasant, open space. There was room to breathe and time to converse with players. It would have been nothing like this if Bonds and the accompanying media mob had still been on hand. The Giants don't have to look far to find the plusses in lower numbers of reporters.

"I think that when there's a lot more media around, guys tend to exit the clubhouse and be on their own," Roberts said. "I think now guys hang out more and we'll be better for it, because guys aren't running from the media. No offense."

None taken. The Giants are going to need that kind of unity; they will need to be a team in the largest sense of the word on offense, because they're not likely to overwhelm anybody. As Bochy put it:

"We need to get contributions from everybody. We're going to need everybody to do something to help us."

And in the other half of the game, they could really use Barry Zito to be the ace that his $126 million contract suggests. His 2007 record (11-13, 4.53 ERA) was not quite what they had in mind. His 14.92 ERA in four starts this spring has not been particularly encouraging, either. Pitching in Arizona, where the ball carries and the infield dirt can be brick-like, is no picnic. But the Giants need to see something more from Zito, any time now.

They remain confident that he will come through for them.

"Last year, what he should feel good about was how he finished the season," Bochy said. "He really pitched well if you look at his last eight, nine starts. That's what he needs to build on and carry to this season.

"The great thing about this game, I've said many times, is that every year is a new year, a new slate. He should feel good about how he finished last year and take that into this year and he'll be fine. I don't look at the middle of the season when he had some rough starts, and he shouldn't, either. When he hits the mound, we expect to win and we expect Barry to give us a chance to win; that's not ever going to change for us."

It is probably good that some things remain unchanged with the Giants. They have undergone the fundamental change from Barry Bonds to no Barry Bonds. They will be an unmistakably different team, with a brand new opportunity to prove that they can be a better team.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }