When the Braves were recruiting free agent B.J. Upton over the winter, they knew they had some competition from within their own division for the athletic 28-year-old outfielder.
"He flew in from Philadelphia to meet with us, so that was my first clue. I didn't think he was visiting family members," Braves general manager Frank Wren said with a laugh early in Spring Training. "We looked at B.J. as the best option for us. I don't know if they had him that high on their list ... but we felt if he went there they would have gotten the top guy on our list."
The issue of who will ultimately get the last laugh will begin to be decided Monday at Atlanta's Turner Field when the Phillies meet the Braves on Opening Night. The Braves not only accomplished their goal with a 5-year, $75.25 million contract, but later made a deal with the D-backs to get Justin Upton.
The City of Brotherly Love vs. the Upton brothers, beginning at 7:05 p.m ET. It will be the first of 19 divisional scrums between the two teams, including the final three games back in Atlanta, that could go a long way toward deciding if either team will continuing into the postseason.
After wild cards were added to the playoffs for the first time in 1995, the Braves or Phillies won the division 16 of the first 17 years. Now, both will be hoping to unseat the Nationals. And both will be without their starting catchers when the season opens. The Braves don't expect to have Brian McCann, who is recovering from October shoulder surgery, until the middle of April. Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies was suspended the first 25 games of the season for using a banned stimulant.
"I think the fact that they're one of the big rivals in our division and the history of the last 20 years kind of speaks for itself. With our team and theirs, that's definitely a very good conversation piece. I think people are watching for those match-ups in that series," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
But that's just about the extent of their common interest.
"They are going to be a team we battle all year, so to open with them and end with them, it's going to be a pretty significant series to see where we stand and set the tone for where we are in the division," said Phillies Opening Night starter Cole Hamels.
The Phillies are entering the season with the lowest expectations since 2007, which is also the last time they came into Spring Training as anything other than the defending National League East champion. Manuel understands how getting off to a good start could help his team regain its swagger.
"You see when teams come out of the gate good, that can definitely carry over," Manuel said. "That's momentum if you get off good early. Say you sweep the first series and then real quick you get eight or 10 games over .500? Oh, yeah, that can get you going."
The Braves, on the other hand, are a team that's widely viewed as capable of running down the Nationals.
"On paper, I definitely put us just as good [as the Nationals]," backup catcher Gerald Laird said. "They may have some strengths, and we have some strengths on our side. But for the most part, we are two competitively balanced teams. Some people might be picking them to win the division, but Atlanta won 94 games last year, and we've improved. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be anybody's race."
Medlen pointed out that, in the end, it will all be about results.
"I'm a big believer in playing the game," he said. "I don't like talking about potential. It's like talking about prospects. Cool, you throw hard, but you don't know anything about pitching. You just don't know anything until you play the game. I don't like talking about rosters or who looks good on paper. I just like playing the game and trying to beat whoever we are playing."
Hamels takes the same approach.
"When the time comes and we have to step between the lines, we have to play the very best baseball we can for 173 games. We have to look at it that way. If we don't take that sort of approach then we're selling ourselves short. That's the attitude that we're getting. You can feel it in the clubhouse. You can see the work ethic. This is something that we want to do. We want to win 173 games, and that's what we are going to play for," he said.
And it all starts Monday night.
Phillies: Hamels to make first season-opening start
Hamels will be making his first career Opening Night start. He was 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA against Atlanta last season and said there's a sense of urgency to win as the nucleus of the team gets older.
"You don't want to see it, but you understand the game of baseball is a very small window. And you have to do very well for that period of time that you have," Hamels said. "So you have to give it everything you can while you can because it's going to be taken away really fast and you don't want to regret anything.
"I think that's kind of the idea behind what we have to do. We have to perfect everything we can. We have to play as hard as we possibly can. Because it's going to disappear fast and I don't want it to disappear. That's why I still signed [a 6-year, $144 million extension] because I firmly believe we have a great team and we can win the World Series, and the organization wants to see that and the fans want to see that, and I think that's the ingredients that you need to succeed. We have to push the limits."
Braves: Veteran Hudson gets Opening Night nod
Fredi Gonzalez decided to use 37-year-old Tim Hudson in the opener even through right-hander Kris Medlen was 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA in his last 13 starts of 2012.
"Why not give it to the veteran guy?" the manager said.
Hudson will be starting his sixth opener.
"For this club, there are a lot of expectations coming into this year, and it's nice to be able to get started with me on the mound and hopefully getting us in the right column with a W," he said.
• Atlanta went 12-6 against the Phillies in 2012.
• With Chipper Jones retired, the Braves will start the season with a platoon of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson at third base.
• The Phillies are encouraged by the way second baseman Chase Utley's knees held up during spring training and a strong Grapefruit League by onetime top prospect Domonic Brown.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. Mark Bowman contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.