(Sports Network) - The Washington Nationals are the odds on favorites to win the National League East. Who finishes behind them, though, is still up for debate.
Two teams who hope to be in that position square off on Monday when the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves begin their 2013 seasons at Turner Field.
Atlanta will be beginning a new era on Monday, as the Braves start the season without third baseman Chipper Jones, who retired following last season. Atlanta, though, replaced him with the Upton brothers and hopes are again high for the Braves.
After a 2011 September collapse kept the Braves out of the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, the franchise did little to alter its roster following Fredi Gonzalez's first season as manager. Instead, it leaned heavily on a deep rotation and a returning offense led by Jones, who announced before the season began that 2012 would be his last.
The patience paid off as Atlanta won five more games than it did in 2011, with the 94 victories marking the most for the club since posting 96 in '04. That was good enough to get the Braves into the brand new one-game National League Wild Card round, but it was there that their quest to send Jones out a champion ended at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals.
That 6-3 loss put the final stamp on Jones' career and began an offseason that saw major change for the Braves.
Opting not to re-sign center fielder Michael Bourn, the Braves instead handed out a five-year, $75.25 million to former Tampa Bay Ray B.J. Upton before swinging a seven-player deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring his younger brother Justin into the mix of a new-look outfield.
Chris Johnson also came over from the Diamondbacks in that deal, one that cost the Braves the likes of super fielder Martin Prado and pitcher Randall Delgado in addition to prospects, and he'll platoon with 25-year-old Juan Francisco to replace Jones at third.
Atlanta also cleared the way for some of its young pitching to crack the majors by parting ways with Jair Jurrjens and dealing Tommy Hanson to the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim for reliever Jordan Walden.
While the Braves do have a relatively young pitching staff, it will be their veteran on the hill Monday, as righty Tim Hudson makes his sixth Opening Day start. He was 16-7 last season with a 3.62 ERA.
"Why not give it to the veteran guy?" Gonzalez said.
Opposing Hudson will be lefty Cole Hamels, who draws his first Opening Day start on Monday. The former World Series MVP had his best year as a pro in 2012, going 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA. Hamels also closed the year strong, winning his final six starts.
But even with Hamels' heroics the Phillies found themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Things went south in a hurry for the aging Phillies, who saw the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay all slowed by injuries last season, contributing to the club being 14 games under .500 by mid-July.
That led to the Phils becoming sellers before and after the trade deadline, dealing outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence as well as starter Joe Blanton to the NL West in separate trades. And though the club rebounded to finish at .500, the writing appeared to be on the wall that the window was closing.
The Phillies went into the offseason with a handful of needs, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was able to fill all of his holes without spending a ton of money on the likes of a Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton or Nick Swisher (though they did make a run at Upton).
Amaro got creative by trading away young starters Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins for 24-year-old center fielder Ben Revere. And with free agency bare of any major upgrades at third base, Amaro sent a pair of relievers to the Texas Rangers for veteran Michael Young to replace Placido Polanco at the hot corner.
The rest of the holes were filled through free agency, with reliever Mike Adams signed to fix the team's eighth-inning troubles and outfielder Delmon Young brought in to fill the void in right field. Former Washington Nationals lefty John Lannan is expected to complete a talented rotation that still features Hamels, Halladay and Cliff Lee.
On top of that, the Phillies are hoping that Howard and Utley can remain healthy all season, Domonic Brown can finally full fill his potential and closer Jonathan Papelbon can duplicate his 2012 success.
Atlanta went 12-6 against the Phillies in 2012.