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03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Phillies ready to defend division title

NL East champions return with '07 club mostly intact

After six weeks of largely injury-free Grapefruit League games, the Phillies are prepared to begin their first division-title defense in 14 years when they host the Washington Nationals on Opening Day.

They welcome the same team who was in town when Philadelphia clinched the division on Sept. 30, sparking a city-wide celebration that ultimately ended when the club was swept by the Rockies in the National League Division Series.

The Phillies return with the core group intact in their quest to repeat, led by NL MVP Jimmy Rollins, who followed up his correct "team to beat" prediction in 2007 by suggesting that the Phillies will win "100 games," something they've done twice in the 124-year history of the franchise. Support comes from two perennial MVP candidates in 2006 winner Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley, who made his first All-Star team last season.

Aaron Rowand's heart and production are gone, but the team feels it filled the hole with right fielder Geoff Jenkins and third baseman Pedro Feliz, whose combined offense should offset the loss of Rowand. Defensively, Shane Victorino brings his cannon right arm and speed to center field, and the team is expecting no drop-off.

Jenkins clubbed 21 homers and drove in 64 RBIs last season, while Feliz smacked 20 for San Francisco, and his defense at the hot corner has been as good as advertised.

The biggest change for Philadelphia is at closer, where Brad Lidge was imported from Houston. The right-hander with the high 90s mph fastball and devastating slider has been slowed by arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He's been throwing in Minor League games and expects to be ready for Opening Day, though that will ultimately be left up to the medical staff.

If he's not ready, setup man Tom Gordon will step in, with Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero picking up the seventh and eighth innings.

Manager Charlie Manuel will rely on the team's veteran leaders in Jamie Moyer and Rollins to guide the club through an ultra-competitive NL East.

"Players who have been here a while have learned about themselves and our team, and feel comfortable with who we are and what we're trying to do," Manuel said. "We have a winning attitude.

"Spring Training is different from the regular season, when we want to win each day. We're still trying, and still want to win [Spring Training games], but we're also looking past the game results and trying to look at the pitchers who are here and trying to determine who might have a chance to help us [at some point during the season]. I want us to stay loose and play the right way. If we do that, we're going to be OK."

Pitching matchup
WAS: LHP Matt Chico (7-9, 4.63 ERA in 2007)
Chico, who showed flashes of brilliance amid a rocky rookie season with Washington, makes his first Opening Day start.

PHI: RHP Brett Myers (5-7, 21 saves, 4.33 ERA in 2007)
Myers returns from the closer role he enjoyed last season to make his second straight Opening Day start. The right-hander is being counted on for at least 200 innings and must provide a devastating 1-2 punch with Cole Hamels.

The Phillies have a 56-67-2 record on Opening Day. The two ties came in back-to-back seasons -- 1923 at Brooklyn and 1924 vs. Boston. ... In 1907, the New York Giants forfeited the opener to the Phillies at the Polo Grounds. ... Twelve openers have gone extra innings, including last season. Edgar Renteria won it for the Braves in that game -- on April 2 -- with a 10th-inning home run.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WPHT 1210 AM

Up next
• Wednesday: Nationals (Tim Redding, 3-6, 3.64) at Phillies (Cole Hamels, 15-5, 3.39), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Nationals (Jason Bergmann, 6-6, 4.45) at Phillies (Jamie Moyer, 14-12, 5.01), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: Reds (TBA) at Phillies (Kyle Kendrick, 10-4, 3.87), 7:10 p.m. ET

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.