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Much was made at the beginning of Spring Training about Barry Bonds' disappearance from the Giants' clubhouse. Players felt freer to act naturally instead of tiptoeing around the leonine slugger in the corner, and said so.
But the most important way the Giants can express themselves is through performance, not behavior.
The Giants certainly will miss Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader and the chief force in their lineup who the club opted not to re-sign after last season. But they also can start writing a new history as they attempt to break the spell of three consecutive losing seasons.
"We want to establish that we're a team that can compete and we have a lot of players who can be counted on, instead of focusing on a void," said left-hander Barry Zito, the Giants' Opening Day starter on Monday against the Dodgers.
To some degree, Bonds will remain a presence in his absence. For 15 years, many of which were hugely successful, he was
the Giants. Such influential figures don't vanish immediately, at least in the hearts and minds of observers.
"No matter what we do, if we win 100 games, they're going to blame Bonds," left-hander Jack Taschner said. "If we win 40 games, they're going to say it's because of Bonds. In Barry's defense, any way you slice it, he's going to get pulled into this somehow."
The Giants' season-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of their arrival in San Francisco will be another element that accents the past. Shifting the focus to the present in a positive way could present a challenge for the ballclub, which lacks a legitimate cleanup hitter, an experienced closer and will field what some consider to be the least potent lineup in the Major Leagues.
Such low expectations don't deter the Giants, who believe that pitching and defense can spare them the last-place National League West finish that they endured last year.
"I'd rather be sneaking up on people than have a target on my back," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, the Giants' primary offseason acquisition.
"The people in this room know what we have and the people in the front office know what we have, so it's not a question of us having to believe something that isn't there," right-hander Tyler Walker said. "People can think what they want. Nothing starts until Opening Day, March 31. That's when the rubber meets the road."
SF: LHP Barry Zito (11-13, 4.53 ERA in 2007)
Zito has registered at least 10 victories in each of his seven full seasons, including five with at least 14 wins. He's one of 10 left-handers in the Giants' San Francisco history to start on Opening Day.
LA: RHP Brad Penny (16-4, 3.03 ERA)
Penny's .800 winning percentage last year was the best in the Major Leagues. He became the first Dodgers starter to make consecutive All-Star teams since Ramon Martinez (1990-91).
On the Internet
Dodgers closer Takashi Saito has thrived against the Giants, posting an 0.86 ERA (two earned runs in 21 innings) in 20 appearances against them. ... Russell Martin hit .368 against the Giants last year. ... Jeff Kent has an injured hamstring, but might drag himself from the training table to face his former teammates, given his success against them last year (.366, three home runs, 12 RBIs).
Official game notes
Comcast Sports Net-Bay Area
KNBR-AM 680, KLOK-AM 1170 (Español)
Tuesday: Giants (Matt Cain, 7-16, 3.65) at Dodgers (Derek Lowe, 12-14, 3.88), 7:10 p.m. PT
Wednesday: Giants (Tim Lincecum, 7-5, 4.00) at Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 12-5, 3.31), 7:10 p.m. PT