Bonds' impact on Giants undeniable
Slugger hopes to be consistent presence in lineup this year
SAN FRANCISCO -- In the ongoing story of Giants mammoth slugger Barry Bonds, this is Part II, the Reawakening.
After a 14-game "season" for the outfielder last year due to three knee surgeries and a serious right knee infection, his rejuvenated health has heartened the Giants faithful, and his presence alone should add victories to 2005's 75-win total.
One notable baseball publication has ridiculed San Francisco for its oldie-and-no-goodie lineup featuring players in their late 30s and early 40s, and stated unequivocably the Giants' chances of equaling 75 wins would be difficult.
Don't believe it.
This is, in all probability, Bonds' final season with the Giants and maybe as a Major Leaguer, and while he helped guide San Francisco to the World Series in 2002, that championship ring has still eluded the club since 1954.
The Giants would love to at least reclaim the National League West title and erase the memories of that aberrational, injury-riddled 2005, when every negative thing that could happen certainly did.
The Giants are big-time motivated, and general manager Brian Sabean heads the list, knowing the NL West division is revamped and much stronger.
"Everybody in the division did what they could do considering the latitude they had," said Sabean. "We felt pretty good coming out of Spring Training last year and it blew up in our face. So no matter what the team looks like on paper, despite the best-laid plans, you still have to do it on field.
"Selfishly, we're going to need a good start. In my mind, it's very important. Coming off the year we've had and after not being to the playoffs since 2003, you want to be selfish. Get off to a fast start and then you don't have to play catchup no matter what happens."
Bonds, who showed this spring he can still blast baseballs into the far reaches of desertdom, is in the last summer of a $90 million, five-year contract, and he would prefer to go out with style.
While his assault on Babe Ruth's fabled 714 homer total is an interesting and controversial sidelight, his potential impact on the 2006 season could be enormous -- positively or negatively.
Positively, because a 120-game campaign with 35-plus homers should be within reach, and if his knees hold up, he could once again battle for the National League batting title, walk a record amount of times and silence crowds around the circuit with legendary long-ball displays.
Negatively, because any serious injury would be a major offensive disruption and possibly force him out of the game.
Health and motivational issues will also propel the other outfielders.
Moises Alou saw a powerful season -- .321 batting average, 19 homers and 63 RBIs -- limited by leg injuries last year, and he was deeply disappointed.
Because of the World Baseball Classic, the 39-year-old Alou began offseason hitting drills earlier than usual, and he showed up at Giants camp healthy and confident, ready to back up cleanup hitter Bonds.
This could be his final season, too, along with father and manager Felipe's.
Then there's 41-year-old Steve Finley, whose baseball demise has been predicted for years, especially after a shoulder injury ruined his season with the Angels. He says he's always motivated by critics, and his outstanding spring could make him a Comeback Player of the Year candidate.
Center fielder Randy Winn's 2005 season was a bit of heaven. He came back to his native Bay Area in the middle of the season from Seattle and tore apart National League pitching, batting .359 overall with 14 homers in 58 games, while earning NL top player honors for September with an amazing 51 hits, .447 average and .877 slugging percentage.
Rewarded with a three-year contract extension through 2009, the durable Winn is out to prove he's worth it.
Health remains a concern, chief among them closer Armando Benitez's overall conditioning along with wobbly pitching command. He has been hammered this spring, but the good news is veteran Tim Worrell or Tyler Walker can supplant his duties if necessary, while fellow reliever Steve Kline replaces Scott Eyre, and Scott Munter's heavy sinker remains outstanding.
Second baseman Ray Durham is pumped to do well in the last year of his contract and avoid the disabled list, and the Giants hope his plantar fasciitis problems will vanish by the regular season.
If first baseman Lance Niekro can avoid nagging injuries, he'll be a force, showing great power and fast-improving defense during Cactus League play.
Along with outstanding hitting -- the Giants were among Major League offensive leaders this spring -- the pitching has the potential to be the best in years.
Ace Jason Schmidt has returned with power and optimism, No. 2 Matt Morris adds experience and hopefully 200 innings, while young Noah Lowry smoothed out the Cactus League rough spots and should be solid at the outset.
Rookie Matt Cain also had problems this spring, yet considered those moments good learning experiences. Let's hope he gets straight A's on Major League teams.
Fifth starter Jamey Wright has been waiting all his career to have a breakthrough season, to reach his full potential, and he's primed to do just that.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.