PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies insist everything has been going well with Roy Halladay and Chase Utley this winter.
Halladay is trying to bounce back from a subpar season, which included shoulder and back issues. He threw a successful bullpen session Tuesday, and told pitching coach Rich Dubee he feels better than he felt early last spring. Utley is trying to appear in the Opening Day lineup for the first time since 2010 because of chronic knee problems. He has been working out since the end of the regular season, and the Phils indicate he is going to be ready to go once Spring Training begins in Clearwater, Fla., next month.
The Phillies will need both of them healthy and productive in 2013 if they expect to compete in the National League East.
On Thursday, the Braves acquired outfielder Justin Upton in a trade with the D-backs. He joins his brother, B.J. Upton, and Jason Heyward in an outfield chock full of five-tool talent. The Braves finished 94-68 last season, 13 games better than the Phils. Have the additions of the Upton brothers and third baseman Chris Johnson offset the losses of Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and Michael Bourn? The way baseball insiders have been gushing, it certainly seems so.
Of course, the Braves and Phillies are chasing the Nationals, who had the best record in baseball last season with 98 victories. The Nats acquired closer Rafael Soriano, starter Dan Haren and center fielder Denard Span. Those moves -- and a full season of Stephen Strasburg -- should help a young and talented team which looks more than capable of winning a second consecutive division championship.
So where does that leave the Phils, who finished in third place in the NL East in 2012 with 81 victories?
"I think we have a good enough team to contend for the division, yes," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Friday. "Absolutely. It's up to the players to prove me right, I guess."
The Phillies acquired third baseman Michael Young, right fielder Delmon Young, center fielder Ben Revere, setup man Mike Adams and left-hander John Lannan this offseason. If those players perform as they have in the past, they should be a nice complement to the core of talent that includes Halladay, Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon.
But will that core produce?
"I think we've improved our club, too, just by the fact I think we're going to be healthier," said Amaro, when asked about the improvements Washington and Atlanta have made. "We weren't running on all cylinders last year. That's not an excuse. That's just fact. We need those guys that come back to play and produce. If they don't, then it will be troublesome for us. They made their clubs better. We think we made our club better. Hopefully we'll play well enough to knock them off."
Amaro makes his case for the Phillies this way:
"I'll put the top of our rotation against anybody in baseball. I love the back end of our bullpen with Papelbon and Adams and [Antonio] Bastardo. I think we have pluses there. I think we have pretty good balance in the lineup now with Michael Young and Chase and Howard being back. I think we've added a little bit of balance. We have question marks in the outfield, but we've got a little bit of speed in the outfield [with Revere] and better defense. I think there are some things we've done that will help us. Whether or not that's going to be good enough to knock off the Washington Nationals, that remains to be seen."
But on paper it seems the top three teams in the NL East last season enter Spring Training ranked the same way: Nats, Braves and Phils.
"I don't think paper means a whole lot once you start the season," Amaro said. "We were supposed to be the division winner last year and we didn't do it."
The Phillies still could tweak their roster before camp opens. They continue to pursue catching depth and possibly a relief pitcher.
"We're hopeful to bring that to a close sometime soon," Amaro said. "If we don't, we're comfortable with where we're going."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.