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03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Few changes for defending NL champs

Holliday, Helton swap spots; Nix takes over at second base

The schedule pits the last two National League champions to open the season in tradition-rich St. Louis. The Rockies are coming off the best season in their history and their first World Series appearance. The Cards won the 2006 Series.

Not many changes are on tap for the Rockies. There will be a new second baseman, as former top Draft pick Jayson Nix replaces Kazuo Matsui (who signed with the Astros).

The biggest difference is a swap at the heart of the batting order. Left fielder Matt Holliday, who led the NL in batting (.340) and RBIs (137), moves down a spot to cleanup, and first baseman Todd Helton, who hit .320 last season, moves to the No. 3 spot he held for much of his career.

After years of making the Opening Day start a competition that has lasted through camp -- and at times created hard feelings -- the Rockies come into 2008 with a clear No. 1 -- left-hander Jeff Francis. Since breaking in with the Rockies in late 2004, Francis is 47-34 wih a 4.22 ERA.

The bullpen figures to be a strength, with hard-throwing right-hander Luis Vizcaino -- signed to a two-year, $7.5 million deal this offseason after pitching for the Yankees in 2007 -- and left-handed three-time All-Star Brian Fuentes setting up closer Manny Corpas.

Pitching matchup
COL: LHP Jeff Francis (17-9, 4.22 ERA in 2007)
Francis has pitched well in St. Louis and against the Cardinals, and is cool enough to handle the Opening Day pomp at Busch Stadium.

STL: RHP Adam Wainwright (14-12, 3.70 ERA)
A new contract for four years, with a two-year club option, is an indication that Wainwright is the key to the club's pitching future.

Francis has been dominant against the Cards, partly because he's quite smart about facing star Albert Pujols, who owns a .333 average with a double against him. So Francis simply avoids Pujols, having walked him six times in 15 plate appearances.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN Rocky Mountain

On radio
• KOA 850 AM, JOSE 1090 AM (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Rockies (Aaron Cook, 8-7, 4.12) at Cardinals (Todd Wellemeyer, 3-3, 4.54), 6:15 p.m. MT
• Thursday: Rockies (Ubaldo Jimenez, 4-4, 4.28) at Cardinals (Brad Thompson, 8-6, 4.73), 11:15 a.m. MT
• Friday: Diamondbacks (Doug Davis, 13-12, 4.25) at Rockies (Mark Redman, 2-4, 7.62), 2:05 p.m. MT (Rockies home opener)

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