Sports

Phillies feature rotation to vie for N.L. crown

N.L. hitters could have a hairy time against the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, left to right. (Associated Press)
N.L. hitters could have a hairy time against the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, left to right. (Associated Press)

Bruce Bochy has already picked the Phillies as his World Series favorite, and that’s coming from the manager who knows something about Philadelphia’s aces.

The Colorado Rockies consider themselves a legitimate title contender, too, even if they have to take care of Bochy’s champion San Francisco Giants in the pitching-heavy N.L. West to get there.

“When you walk into this clubhouse, it’s no longer, ‘Can we win this division?’ ” Rockies veteran Jason Giambi said. “I think it’s a failure for this year if we’re not a World Series contender.”

With four No. 1 starters in its rotation, Philadelphia is eager to make up for an early exit to the Giants last fall in the N.L. Championship Series. The Phillies were supposed to be the team to beat. Now, the expectations are even greater for this club: Win it all or bust.

“Obviously, that is the ultimate goal,” said Cliff Lee, who was on the other end against the Giants while pitching for A.L. champion Texas last season. “The first thing you’ve got to do is get there. We’ve got to play 162 games to get to the postseason. Once you’re in the postseason, yeah, you’ve got to win the last game to do the ultimate.”

Lee is far from the only new addition in the National League as he returns to Philly.

From Southern California to South Beach and north to the nation’s capital, changes abound in the N.L. No more Bobby Cox on the top dugout step for the Atlanta Braves after he retired. No more Joe Torre managing the Los Angeles Dodgers. The four-time World Series winning skipper is Major League Baseball’s new executive vice president for baseball operations.

Slugger Jayson Werth is now in Washington. The right fielder received a $126 million, seven-year contract from the Nationals this winter, which includes a full no-trade clause.

And with another former A.L. Cy Young Award winner, Zack Greinke, now with Milwaukee, the Brewers figure to be in the playoff chase.

And don’t rule out Cincinnati in the Central after the Reds reached their first playoff trip in 15 years last fall only to be swept by the Phillies in the first round.

In the N.L. East, does anybody else stand a chance against Charlie Manuel’s bunch and all of those aces: Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton?

“We’ve still got to go play. We’ve got to beat people. That’s part of it,” Manuel said. “If you’re good, you’ve got to stay good. That means you’ve got to play hard, stay focused on what you’re doing, can’t get distracted and you’ve got to stay at it. And you’ve got to love to play.”

The new-look New York Mets hope they are fine after a winter of transition – and financial trouble – and same goes for the Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs, two more N.L. teams with new managers.

The Mets fired manager Jerry Manuel and GM Omar Minaya after two straight losing seasons, and now longtime baseball executive Sandy Alderson is in charge and will be eager to get things turned around in a hurry. New skipper Terry Collins is getting another shot in his third managerial gig after going 444-434 during 1990s stints with the Astros and Angels.

“I think honestly the favorite has to be the Phillies. You want to pick the Giants because of the success last year, but the way the Phillies have built that rotation, it might be one of the best rotations ever,” Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart said.



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