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