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Giants expect better results in '07

Healthy, retooled Giants expect better results

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's heard often these days from fans whom Giants general manager Brian Sabean once termed "the lunatic fringe" -- negative people who believe anything less than a World Series title means utter disgrace -- that this year's club is already an also-ran.

Etched in glove leather. Same old team. Creaky senior citizens.

Doomed.

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The Giants' 2006 season was riddled with key injuries -- Barry Bonds didn't play in 31 games, Moises Alou missed 43, closer Armando Benitez missed 4 1/2 months, pitcher Matt Morris lost 15 games and catcher Mike Matheny's concussion proved a career-ender -- and those players who were healthy didn't fare very well: The bullpen's 4.77 ERA was second worst in the National League, ace Jason Schmidt struggled (11-9) and the team's .259 batting average was 13th overall.

A perfect recipe for that disappointing third-place finish in the National League West.

With Spring Training near, however, we'll soon discover whether optimism or pessimism will be the season's overriding emotion. With that in mind, let's analyze what the offseason acquisitions mean and how they'll mesh with the returning veterans, like No. 25.

Bonds will be 43 on July 24, yet he had a full winter to lose weight, prepare for his chase of Hank Aaron's all-time homer mark of 755 (Bonds needs 22 to pass), build muscle to protect his knees and maintain his batting reflexes.

"I'm older, so the workouts were not as intense, but they were still pretty intense," said Bonds, noting he's been running on a regular basis. "We worked really hard, and I feel good and leaned out a bit."

Bonds says he's never been late to Spring Training in Scottsdale, Ariz., and he plans to be in town when regulars report on Feb. 19. Pitchers and catchers report on Valentine's Day.

The 21-year veteran likes the newcomers -- Barry Zito, Dave Roberts, Rich Aurilia, Bengie Molina, Ryan Klesko and skipper Bruce Bochy -- and believes the team will be a winning one.

"We're more versatile and have a good manager for this style of team," said Bonds. "I've watched Bochy's style, and he's a perfect fit for a team with speed and a little bit of power.

"[Roberts] creates a lot of havoc on the basepaths, Klesko's a power hitter and I have a lot of respect for Aurilia, who's versatile. The young pitchers are more established now, and we can only be better with Zito. And Morris is going to drive them even more."

Bonds replied, "No way," when asked if he planned on playing in fewer games than the 130 he appeared in last season.

No guarantees, of course, but Bonds stated that if he's lucky and doesn't have nagging problems or a serious injury, he'll have a successful season.

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"I pray to God my body holds up," he said.

The 28-year-old Zito should be a solid replacement for former ace Schmidt, who won only 23 games the past two years, down from 35 victories in 2003-04.

Zito has never missed a Major League start in seven seasons and will anchor a rotation featuring Morris and youngsters Matt Cain and Noah Lowry.

Morris should rebound after incurring a rib injury midway through 2006, and Lowry (7-10) was hampered by a side muscle strain throughout the season. Cain, only 22, had a brilliant second half after faltering early. Expect vast improvement from all three, although Morris must prove he's still got his old stuff.

Former Giants star Russ Ortiz will attempt a comeback as the fifth starter after two poor seasons, but he must fight off promising youngster Jonathan Sanchez.

Roberts changes the team's dynamics with his leadoff and base-stealing ability, and he comes off a career-best .293 average with San Diego. Roberts' lone drawback, however, is his propensity for leg injuries. He's never played in more than 129 games in a season.

Can't knock the Giants' acquisition of Molina. He was the best available free-agent catcher and is a two-time Gold Glove recipient. His experience will help the youngsters on the staff, and he says reports of his defensive decline are untrue.

Aurilia's infield range has decreased, yet he'll play mainly at first unless Klesko -- a more natural first sacker -- gets his power back after shoulder surgery early last year with the Padres. Aurilia, who hit .300 with Cincinnati in 2006, is versatile enough to back up shortstop Omar Vizquel, second baseman Ray Durham and third baseman Pedro Feliz, giving the club more depth than it had in 2006.

Whether Bochy's skills produce a contending team is uncertain, but if the Giants' regulars can stay healthy, young relievers Jack Taschner and Brian Wilson have breakout seasons and if Bonds can lead a renewed offense, maybe those fringe fans will finally clam up.

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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