From the time that they arrived at spring training, the Phillies have looked like a team with a chip on their shoulders after hearing about their advancing age and declining numbers during the 2012 season.
But whether they can turn that chip into something tangible in the National League East standings remains to be seen. And that's why the 2013 Phillies team that arrives in Atlanta next week to begin the season is one of the great unknowns in the major leagues.
Can the Phillies find a way to get prime performances from players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins -- players that some feel are heading past their primes? Will Roy Halladay be healthy and effective enough to keep Philadelphia's rotation as a strength? Will the rebuilt bullpen find a way to give the lead to Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning? And has Domonic Brown arrived as an everyday outfielder in the major leagues?
For the first time in three years, the Phils will have a healthy Utley to start the season. He has played the majority of the spring training games -- a stark improvement from the previous two seasons when he never saw a field during the month in Florida due to the chondromalacia in his knees. Late in camp, Utley's power stroke seemed to return and he seemed more at ease at the plate.
Howard had a big spring numbers wise, connecting for seven home runs through March 25. His mobility -- compromised by a ruptured Achilles tendon at the end of the 2011 playoffs -- has improved and he appears to be staying back on the ball better.
The biggest question leaving Clearwater appears to be the status of Halladay, who had a star-crossed spring with more questions about declining velocity, a bout with a nasty flu that caused him to lose 10 pounds and plenty of scout whispers about whether the two-time Cy Young Award winner can ever return to his previous form.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of camp was the emergence of Brown, who won a starting outfield job thanks to his solid hitting and improved defense in Florida. Brown has been a Phillie that most scouts and organizational people feel could take a huge step up after three inconsistent tenures in the majors before this season.
Overall, the Phillies have their work cut out for them in a tough National League East with the improved Nationals and Braves. However, throwing dirt on this team's grave may be a dangerous adventure. In the end, the Phils will be a factor if they stay healthy. But that's a big if when you have as many older players as they carry.