"Listen, he has confidence, which is good," Utley said. "To be successful, you have to have confidence and he feels his team has what it takes to win."
As much as the reserved and quiet second baseman wanted to avoid the subject, he knew the proclamation added fodder to the rivalry between the Phillies and the Mets.
Beltran, normally subdued when it comes to grandiose statements, got Spring Training off to a blazing start when he boldly stated: "To Jimmy Rollins: We are the team to beat."
The statement was as much a product of his own confidence as it was a response to Rollins, who last winter proclaimed that the Phillies were the one to beat -- and then backed it up on the field.
"It creates excitement, for sure," Utley said. "Confidence leads to success just as much as success breeds confidence."
The offseason acquisition of Johan Santana, though, is a huge part of Beltran's confidence factor.
And Utley knows it.
"Adding him will definitely help make their entire team better," Utley said. "But, at the same time, we're going to approach him like anyone else. We'll have a certain game plan and we'll see what happens."
As much as Utley broached the subject, though, he also knew not to add fuel to the fire.
"You're gonna get boring stuff from me," Utley said. "I'm trying to stay out of trouble."
Beltran knew that he would now be a source of ridicule in Philadelphia just as much as Rollins was Public Enemy No. 1 last year in New York.
"I don't care," Beltran said. "They boo me in Houston. One more city won't make a difference."
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Even though Rollins made a critical fielding error during the Mets' home opener at Shea Stadium, inciting frenzy by the Mets faithful, Rollins redeemed himself with a National League Most Valuable Player performance that helped propel the Phillies to an NL East title.
Beltran, normally quiet and reserved, has stepped out of character and the Phillies understand how that type of confidence can lead to good things.
"He is trying to pump up his team, which is a good thing," Cole Hamels said. "Just like Jimmy did last year, he's trying to do the same thing for his team."
Hamels, like Utley, understands that words are just that, unless it's backed up on the field.
"It's more for fun and for the fans and you all," Utley said. "It's not like we have a bitter hatred towards each other. We all know it's how it's translated in performance."
Quiet ... here come the Braves: Utley and Hamels, in discussing the NL East, both said how important it was not to sleep on the Braves.
"You can't forget about the Braves," Hamels said. "They have a very talented team. They have a lot of players returning and you can't ignore what they bring to the table. I definitely don't like facing their lineup."
Offensively, the Braves no longer have Andruw Jones, but his production declined dramatically in 2007. The Braves will have a dynamic switch-hitting combination in the third and fourth spots in the order, Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira, featuring both power and on-base percentage. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is just 24, but he is already a proven run producer. Kelly Johnson had a productive campaign in his first season as a full-time second baseman. Catcher Brian McCann is just days away from his 24th birthday, but the record already says that he is not only an accomplished defensive player, but also a hitter of significant potential.
At shortstop, the extremely dependable Edgar Renteria is gone, but his replacement, Yunel Escobar, hit .326 in 94 games last season. So overall, the Braves should not struggle to score runs.
"The Braves have always been a great team and a great organization," Utley said. "You can't sleep on them. And for all the talk to be about us and the Mets, they can fly under the radar and make things happen."
The Braves occupied the top spot of the NL East for 14 consecutive seasons before faltering the last two seasons. Not only do they have a potent offense, the pitching staff is rejuvenated with the addition of Tom Glavine.
Although he turns 42 in March, the left-hander still won 13 games last season and has won 303 games in his career. John Smoltz, a future Hall of Famer, and Tim Hudson, who has a 135-70 lifetime record, man the other two top spots. The health of Mike Hampton is still in question but the Braves have more than enough suitable rotation candidates in the likes of Chuck James, Jair Jurrjens, Jo-Jo Reyes and Jeff Bennett.
"For a team like that to be flying under the radar is scary stuff," Hamels said. "While all the talk and the battling is going on between us and the Mets, it could be smooth sailing for them."
Checking in: Jayson Werth and Wes Helms were in good spirits upon their return to Spring Training. The two exchanged handshakes and salutations as they both filed into the clubhouse on Sunday. Helms, whose spot on the 25-man roster appears in jeopardy after the signing of Pedro Feliz, did not make himself available to the media.