4 aces in Philly, stars in new places for MLB 2011

With four aces, the Philadelphia Phillies are all in. Because if this is the Year of the Pitcher yet again, then Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and their pals should breeze into the World Series bracket and wind up in a parade down Broad Street.

Obviously, the Phils are kings of the hill. Heck, Logan Morrison seemed shocked that someone even bothered to ask him during a Twitter chat for their No. 1 weakness.

“They have one?” the 23-year-old Florida outfielder barbed. “Thought they were the best team ever.”

Ah, youth.

Baseball 2011 is full of fresh faces. Kyle Drabek in Toronto, Freddie Freeman in Atlanta and Jesus Montero in New York pinstripes, all hoping to become the next Buster Posey _ chomping for a chance in Triple-A, then celebrating a championship in the bigs.

Lots of rookies in the dugout, too. Don Mattingly takes over the Los Angeles Dodgers, trying to prove fine players can make fine managers. In all, a dozen teams go into opening day Thursday with a different skipper than they started with last season.

Gone are Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. They retired, as did all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman, top postseason winner Andy Pettitte and former World Series MVP Mike Lowell.

But there’s plenty of room for the old pros _ not including Jamie Moyer, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery and wants to pitch next season at age 49.

Derek Jeter, at 36, is coming off a down year that led to testy contract talks. Only 74 hits shy of No. 3,000, this is the first time since he was a rookie the Captain has fans wondering whether he’s still an All-Star.

Chipper Jones, at 38, is trying to bounce back from a knee injury that nearly finished him.

Jeter and Jones get early swings. There are six openers March 31, starting with Detroit at Yankee Stadium and Atlanta at Washington.

Then there’s 40-year-old Jim Thome, needing just 11 home runs to be the eighth slugger in the 600 club.

“If it happens it’d be great. It’d be a wonderful thing. Not many guys have done it. So, yeah, I respect it. The history of the game, you respect it,” Thome said. “But on the other end, man, that World Series ring is something every player should want and strive to get. I’ve been close. But just not over that hump. We’ll see. We’ll see.”

That’s how a lot of San Francisco Giants _ and their orange-and-black boosters _ felt going into last season. Led by whirlybird Tim Lincecum and bearded Brian Wilson, the Giants brought the trophy to the City by the Bay for the first time.

That made it nine different World Series champions in the last 10 years. And after a flurry of winter moves, no doubt a lot of teams are thinking it’s their turn. Maybe even the Chicago Cubs, trying to end a 102-year drought.

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