KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Judging from some of the talk coming out of the New York and Philadelphia camps, the NL East must be a two-team race.
Not so, said Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who shrugged off the back-and-forth banter between the last two division champions.
'I really don't care what's being said,' he said. 'The Phillies and the Mets know we'll be competitive. They know we'll be heard from.'
The Braves have finished third each of the last two years after winning 14 straight division titles.
Philadelphia claimed the East championship last season, backing up Jimmy Rollins' preseason prediction that the Phillies would be the team to beat. Of course, it helped when the Mets endured a historic collapse in the final weeks.
New York then acquired ace Johan Santana from Minnesota, prompting normally soft-spoken Carlos Beltran to proclaim the Mets are the undisputed favorite.
'Let me tell you this: Without Santana, we felt as a team that we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we're going to win in our division,' Beltran said. 'So this year, to Jimmy Rollins - we are the team to beat!'
No one seems to be mentioning the Braves, though they have one of the best-hitting teams in the league and took steps to upgrade their starting rotation by signing Tom Glavine and acquiring top prospect Jair Jurrjens.
'It really doesn't bother me,' Jones said. 'They are the last two division champions. They can talk all they want. We did it for 14 straight years. We know what it takes.
'The core of guys is still here. We've just got to get these young guys used to having that killer instinct and getting back on top of the NL East to stay again.'
Matt Diaz has platooned in left field the last two seasons, proving he's fully capable of handling the job part time.
Maybe he'll get a chance to show what he can do every day.
Willie Harris, who shared time with Diaz in 2007, was let go after the season. The Braves have several contenders to take his place, though Diaz made a strong case for more at-bats by hitting .338 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs.
'It would be nice,' said Diaz, who has two straight .300 seasons since joining the Braves. 'I'm not going to lie.'
Manager Bobby Cox signaled a willingness to give Diaz a full-time job, saying he's addressed an issue once held against him.
'He's a good defensive player now,' Cox said. 'He was always noted for his hitting, but he never got any credit for catching the ball.'
There are no doubts about Diaz's offense.
'When you've had back-to-back .300 seasons,' Cox said, 'you're a pretty good hitter.'
Diaz figures it would be easier to make the transition to more playing time than getting used to the role he's played the last two years in Atlanta.
'When you're coming up through the minor leagues, you're used to playing every day,' he said. 'This was a big change not playing every day.'
Waiting for Omar
Omar Infante hopes to get his cast off in the next few days, but manager Bobby Cox isn't hopeful of having the utility player on opening day.
Infante, who was hit by a pitch in a Venezuelan winter league game, had surgery to install a pin in his fractured left hand.