The team's 65 wins in 2010 matched the second-lowest victory total in franchise history.
"We've got a young staff and an almost completely different bullpen than we did last year. If the bullpen improves and our young pitching takes a step forward then we could compete," Towers said. "If we don't pitch well it doesn't matter how many runs we score we won't be able to compete."
The Phillies and most everybody else figured this team had the talent to win it all last season as two-time defending NL champions with baseball's best record. Now, add Lee to the mix and the expectations are even greater for a club that fell short after winning 97 games.
Can this superstar pitching staff make it happen this time? Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game early last season, then a no-hitter against the Reds in the playoffs. Still, as the Giants showed, anybody has a shot come the postseason.
"If we play just like we always have and keep the same attitude, I don't worry about the target or the expectations. We'll be fine," Manuel said.
Fredi Gonzalez steps in to fill the big shoes left by Cox, who led the Braves to 91 wins and back to the playoffs for the first time in five years only to lose to the Giants in the first round as the wild card.
Atlanta added durable second baseman Dan Uggla as a key right-handed bat. The Braves acquired him in a trade from Florida, then rewarded the slugger with a $62 million, five-year contract. Keeping Chipper Jones healthy as he recovers from knee surgery is a top priority, and the Braves are counting on Jason Heyward following his Rookie of the Year runner-up season with another strong year.
A rotation led by Derek Lowe (16-12), Tommy Hanson (10-11) and Tim Hudson (17-9) should keep the Braves right in the mix even if the Phillies are the strong favorite. But the Braves will dearly miss retired closer Billy Wagner.
After losing someone like Uggla, Hanley Ramirez knows he needs to return to his productive self.
The 2006 Rookie of the Year was the NL batting champion in 2009 after hitting .342 with 24 home runs, then finished at .300 last season with 21 homers and 76 RBIs.
The young Marlins figure to rely on their talented rotation and a bullpen that was bolstered this winter.
Still, this bunch knows the Phillies are the team to beat — and that's OK.
"If anything, that's fuel for us," right fielder Mike Stanton said. "If everyone's talking about you all the time, then you kind of get lackadaisical and kick back, if you want to say. It's sometimes good not to be that team everyone's gunning for until it's too late."
New York Mets
Many consider the Mets to be a mess considering their financial woes and the large contracts still on the books. With proven executive Alderson in charge, that could change for a club that went 79-83 to finish fourth in the East. The retooled Mets still have question marks throughout their roster as they try to avoid a fifth straight season out of the playoffs despite the challenges ahead.
And ace Johan Santana won't pitch for a while after shoulder surgery.