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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H15

Any discussion of the 2005 San Francisco Giants must be broken into two categories: With Bonds, and without Bonds. (Come to think of it, the baseball season as a whole can be viewed the same way.) If Barry Bonds misses much or all of the season, as he says is possible, the Giants look like a very ordinary team -- albeit one that can still win a division in which everyone else looks just as ordinary.

But if Bonds manages to rehab his injured right knee, fend off federal prosecutors in the BALCO case, stave off thoughts of retirement and get back on the field, the Giants automatically become the clear favorites in the division, and arguably the most well-rounded team in the league.

The Giants will be counting on Moises Alou's bat more than they expected now that Barry Bonds will be out of the lineup for an uncertain amount of time. Alou, who was acquired in the offseason, will bat fourth. (Roy Dabner -- AP)

It's hard to overstate how much Bonds changes games and influences outcomes. Moises Alou looked like a brilliant offseason pickup as the latest candidate to hit behind Bonds and -- hopefully -- cause teams to stop walking him so much. But without Bonds around, Alou suddenly looks like, at best, a mediocre choice for cleanup hitter.

This is the oldest team baseball has seen for some time -- perhaps since the disastrous 1998 Baltimore Orioles. The Giants' youngest starting position player is Pedro Feliz, 29, who will replace Bonds in left. Alou is 38. Marquis Grissom is 37. Omar Vizquel will be 38 in April. Still, every starter save for Feliz has been an all-star at some point in their careers.

But without Bonds, the Giants cannot be expected to score 850 runs (second only to St. Louis in the National League) like they did last year. Which means, they will have to win with pitching.

Can they do that? Jason Schmidt is one of the elite starting pitchers in the league, and the rest of the rotation behind him is credible. Keep an eye on Jesse Foppert, a star in the making who is expected to begin the year in the bullpen.

As for that bullpen, newcomer Armando Benitez is the stud closer the Giants could have used last season, when they employed a patchwork system and went down to the final weekend of the season before coming up short.

The Giants have won 90 games or more for five years running. With Bonds on board, they should easily make it six. Without him, look out below.

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