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Giants: Great expectations depend on starters

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Even though there might not be the expectations of a World Series or even a division title, 2007 might be the most important Giants season since they moved to San Francisco.

Why? Two reasons. First, it will likely be the end of the Barry Bonds era, whether he reaches 756 career home runs or not. Second, because of that, there needs to be a transition to the future, which didn’t exactly go the way Giants fans or management had hoped this offseason.

Bonds is important to the Giants for one reason — all those home runs. The more he hits, the more the Giants win. And the more he hits, the more people flock to AT&T Park to eat garlic fries.

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Bay Area Baseball 2007

Considering the left-handed-hitting slugger belted just 21 homers last season while remaining relatively healthy means Bonds needs to crank out 22 this year to surpass baseball’s most coveted record of 755 career home runs by Hank Aaron. Oh, yeah — and he is 42 years old and no one his age has ever hit more than 18 homers in a season (Carlton Fisk did it as a 42- and 43-year-old).

As for the transition, the biggest move of the winter showed the Giants want new manager Bruce Bochy to build around a group of young starters.

Leading the staff (at least in terms of his seven-year,$126 million contract, the largest in baseball history given to a pitcher) is left-hander Barry Zito, 28, who moves across the Bay after seven seasons with the A’s, where he was 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA and won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award.

But he probably isn’t the most talented pitcher in the rotation. That honor goes to flame-throwing right-hander Matt Cain, 22, who led all rookies last season with 13 wins and 179 strikeouts.

Although he doesn’t run with the young crowd any more, 32-year-old Matt Morris was signed a year ago to be the No. 2 behind Jason Schmidt, who continued a trend of ex-Giants defecting to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. But Morris struggled, to put it mildly, en route to a 10-15 mark and 4.98 ERA. Left-hander Noah Lowry, 26, signed a four-year contract on the eve of last season’s home opener, but promptly got hurt in his first start and only in the second half did he seem to regain his expected form.

The No. 5 spot is where the Giants kept with their philosophy of old over young. Instead of promising 24-year-old left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants instead went with 33-year-old Russ Ortiz, a fan favorite who has been reduced to a journeyman. Since signing a four-year, $33 million deal with Arizona before the 2005 season, Ortiz is 5-16 with a 7.33 ERA and has been cut once (the Diamondbacks are still on the hook for the final two years of his contract) and not re-signed by Baltimore after last season.

Waiting in the wings is right-hander Tim Lincecum, 22, the Giants’ first-round draft pick last year who flashed his electric repertoire throughout the spring and will probably be at Triple-A Fresno and get the call should someone struggle or get hurt.

It is an interesting mix, one that could be among the best in baseball — or be why the Giants don’t reach .500.


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