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With or without Bonds, Giants are simply a bad team

Posted: Thursday July 26, 2007 1:21AM; Updated: Thursday July 26, 2007 2:01AM
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy has so much power, it's almost comical. His Giants are in last place in the NL West, yet with seven small words spoken in his slow drawl, he can take the air out of the entire room:

"Barry won't be in the lineup tonight."

And with that, 98 percent of the sporting world ceased to care about the third game of the Giants-Braves four-game set. Because without Barry Bonds -- stuck on career home run No. 753 for the sixth straight game -- the Giants are exposed for what they are: a bad team.

On days Bonds plays, the world hangs on every pitch. On days he doesn't, the electricity is sucked out of the foggy air like a deflating hot-air balloon. What's left is a team with the third-worst record in baseball at 42-57, 12 games behind the division-leading Dodgers.

With Bonds in the lineup, the Giants are an unremarkable 36-44. Without him, they're just as bad at 6-13. They're 25th or worse in the majors in virtually every offensive category, including home runs, total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage -- and that includes Bonds' offensive output.

The fans know it. They turned up in droves in the first two games of this homestand, hoping to see Bonds break Hank Aaron's record at AT&T Park. Wednesday night was another announced sellout but, ostensibly, as word spread that Bonds wouldn't be in the lineup, the amount of empty green seats became far more noticeable. (Though those in attendance were treated to an encouraging 2-1 San Francisco victory.)

The lone bright spot so far this season for the Giants has been their trio of young pitchers: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Noah Lowry, who started Wednesday and pitched eight solid innings, allowing one earned run, seven hits and striking out four for his team-leading 11th win. Together, the junior triumvirate has a fairly respectable 3.80 ERA. But their combined record (19-21) doesn't match their performance, and that's mostly due to the anemic run support they get.

Yet still, all we want to talk about is Barry, Barry, Barry. The most recent twist is frequent Bonds critic Curt Schilling and former BALCO chemist Patrick Arnold taking shots at the history-making slugger on HBO's Costas Now on Tuesday night. (For his part, Bonds responded by calling Bob Costas a "midget".)

Just pile it onto a media circus that turns the team's efforts to play baseball into a mere sideshow. When you add it all up, it doesn't exactly make for a comfortable clubhouse.

"When you're not playing well and no one could care less how the team is doing and they focus on one guy -- and obviously it's a great record -- it gets pretty frustrating as a team," said centerfielder Dave Roberts.

And that seems to be the word of the season for the Giants: frustrating. Bochy has used it in interviews. So have catcher Bengie Molina, starting pitcher Matt Morris and reliever Steve Kline. On Wednesday, it was Lincecum's turn:

"You can tell it's wearing on some of the guys and they're handling it differently," said the 23-year-old flame-throwing right-hander. "This has been going on since I got called up [in May]. It just sort of seems like this is the way it is."

Obviously, it's not, even if it seems like that's the case. This team is only three years removed from the power-packed unit that averaged 95 wins a season from 2000 to '04, making the playoffs three times and, in '02, coming within eight outs of winning its first World Series since moving to San Francisco.

Bonds was the focal point during that run as well, but he had an excellent supporting cast and one of the best rotations in the game. Now, he's surrounded by the aging legs of Omar Vizquel, Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko and Roberts, all of whom are on the wrong side of 35. The young arms are nice, but the Giants are a cellar-dwelling team with little hope of improvement as the Barry Show takes center stage.

"It's unfortunate that it can't complement a good season as a team," said Roberts. "You just try to find some positives."

There aren't many. You subtract Bonds from the organization and you're left with a tottering lineup, few prospects in a minor-league system ranked 20th by Baseball America and the green pitchers as the only bargaining chips to dangle as trade bait. And even they're hypnotized by the Show.

"Not everybody gets the chance to say they played with Barry Bonds," Lincecum said. For the Giants, that's what the '07 season boils down to: just saying you were there.

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