Start of a New Era

The Barry Bonds era in San Francisco is over, while in Los Angeles, the Joe Torre era is about to begin.

The Dodgers and the Giants are both hoping that new looks will lead to better results as they kick off a season-opening three-game series Monday at Chavez Ravine.

Oddsmakers from have made Los Angeles -180 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 8 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 82% of bets for this game have been placed on Los Angeles –180 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Los Angeles (82-80) finished in second-to-last place in the NL West last season, ahead of only San Francisco (71-91), marking just the second time since division play began in 1969 that the two teams brought up the rear in the division.

The Giants finished in last place despite the efforts of Bonds, who hit 28 of his 762 career homers in 2007, passing Hank Aaron's previous all-time record of 755 along the way. However, San Francisco declined to re-sign the 43-year-old slugger, and he has yet to find a new job.

During spring training, the Giants expressed their relief at not having to deal with the circus atmosphere that Bonds attracted. In addition to his pursuit of the home run record, allegations of steroid use have hounded Bonds in recent years, and he was indicted in November on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

But even in his absence, the Giants can't entirely escape Bonds.

Team owner Peter Magowan and general manager Brian Sabean met with commissioner Bud Selig or his representatives during spring training after December's Mitchell Report raised questions about whether Giants officials might have known that Bonds or other players were allegedly using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. And aside from the steroid issue, this season's team knows it will be still be judged with the former franchise player in mind.

"No matter what we do, if we win 100 games, they're going to blame Bonds," left-hander Jack Taschner told the Giants' official Web site. "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 Dodgers, meanwhile, are hoping that Torre can help them avoid a repeat of last season, when tension between veterans and younger players arose as the team lost 11 of its last 14 games to fall out of postseason contention.

"He's calm, he might give us what we need," catcher Russell Martin said.

The 67-year-old Torre reached the playoffs in each of his 12 seasons as manager of the New York Yankees, winning the World Series in four of his first five. However, he turned down an incentive-laden, one-year contract with the Yankees, saying he was insulted by the implication that he needed motivation to win.

"It didn't take me long to feel comfortable, I'll tell you that," said Torre, who signed a $13 million, three-year deal with the Dodgers. "The last three years weren't as comfortable."

Still, Torre already has plenty to deal with in Los Angeles. Second baseman Jeff Kent (hamstring) says he's ready to go, but third basemen Nomar Garciaparra (broken bone in right hand) and Andy LaRoche (thumb) are on the disabled list.

Tony Abreu, another possibility at third base, has a strained right groin that will keep him out of action for at least two weeks.

Blake DeWitt, a 22-year-old non-roster player who split last season between Single-A Inland Empire and Double-A Jacksonville, was the likely opening-day third baseman as of Sunday.

Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' 38-year-old closer, has experienced tightness in his left buttock recently after sitting out two weeks earlier this spring with a sore right calf, and right-hander Jason Schmidt has hit a snag in his comeback from last June's season-ending shoulder surgery, leaving his return date uncertain.

"Usually you make your own luck," Torre said. "The good luck is staying healthy."

On top of those dilemmas, Torre will be adjusting to managing in the National League for the first time since he was fired by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995.

"I'll have to have somebody keep poking me all the time that I've got a pitcher who's supposed to hit, or attempt to hit, or whatever," he said. "Not that managing in the American League is easy, but there's more you have to be aware of in the National League."

The Giants also have a number of questions entering the season. High on the list is the offense, which could struggle to generate runs without Bonds in the middle of the order.

Catcher Bengie Molina, who hit .276 with 19 homers and a career-best 81 RBIs last season, will take over for Bonds as San Francisco's cleanup hitter.

"We're trying to put up runs," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, who signed with the Giants after hitting a career-best 27 homers last season for Philadelphia. "That's the name of the game. We're not going to live and die by the longball, but we've got some guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's not all small ball. It's inevitable you're going to hit some home runs."

San Francisco will also start the season without 11-time Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel, who is recovering from left knee surgery, and lefty starter Noah Lowry, who had surgery on his forearm during spring training. Infielder Kevin Frandsen is out for the year after rupturing his left Achilles' tendon last week.

The Giants are also counting on Barry Zito, who gets the ball for the season opener, to bounce back from a disappointing 2007. Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million contract before last season - at the time the biggest ever handed out to a pitcher - but posted career worsts with an 11-13 record and a 4.53 ERA in 196 2-3 innings.

Zito is 0-3 with a 9.49 ERA in three previous opening day starts, and a rough spring didn't do much to set the Giants' mind at ease.

"It's just timing," Zito said. "Everything in pitching is timing."

Zito is 3-2 with a 4.20 ERA in six career starts against the Dodgers. He went eight innings and yielded just two runs in an 11-2 win at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 30 in his last start of 2007.

The Dodgers will counter with Brad Penny, who went 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA in a career-high 208 innings last season, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Penny, who also won 16 games in 2006, is 3-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 17 appearances - 16 starts - against the Giants.

by: Dave Michaels - – Email Us

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