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PHI@ATL: Wren on Braves' spring, outlook for 2012

John Schuerholz knows what people are saying.

"There was a lot of activity in our division. There are a lot of clubs that went out there and made some strong moves. It was a tough division already, and we understand that," the Braves president noted one day this spring at Champion Stadium.

Not every team can get a Jonathan Papelbon, a Gio Gonzalez, a Jose Reyes, a Mark Buehrle and a Heath Bell, though. As it turns out, the two National League East teams that took the less-can-be-more approach, Atlanta and New York, will face each other on Opening Day Thursday afternoon at Citi Field.

The game will be preceded by a tribute to Hall of Famer Gary Carter, who passed away during the offseason. It will also be the first test for the new, shorter fences that were installed to make the dimensions more fair.

Both teams have something to prove in 2012.

The Braves, of course, are trying to right the ship after going 8-18 down the stretch last September and watching an almost certain Wild Card berth slip away. The Mets have endured criticism for allowing Reyes to depart as a free agent this winter.

"We're not going to get blindsided, but we think we're going to be good, too. We just think we need to get some guys back healthy again and once we do that, we'll be in good shape," Schuerholz said.

He was talking about Atlanta, but the Mets might say the same thing since injury issues have dogged both teams.

The Mets were without ace left-hander Johan Santana -- who will start against the Braves on Thursday -- throughout 2011 as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. They lost Chris Young after just four starts. Jonathon Niese was lost for the year after being placed on the disabled list. First baseman Ike Davis, off to a torrid start, didn't play after May 10. Third baseman David Wright was limited to 102 games with back problems. Left fielder Jason Bay has missed over 106 games in the past two years.

They used six different first basemen, six different second basemen and eight different right fielders in 2011.

The best Mets news is that Santana is back to start the opener, and that their roster appears to have largely survived a spate of Spring Training injuries that left Terry Collins frustrated at times.

"We've got to get out of the gate [playing well]. That's huge for us," the manager said in mid-March. "I'm going to tell you, we aren't going to compete if we don't have our players on the field."

Wright said Santana's value is immense.

"We're a different team when Johan is healthy than we are with Johan not being healthy," the team's longest-tenured player said. "I think that's stating the obvious. There's a tremendous home-field advantage for us when he's on the mound. There's just a certain energy and electricity in the air when he takes the ball."

One concern is new closer Frank Francisco, who had a sore left knee at the end of Spring Training.

The Braves, too, know something about injuries. It's hard to imagine that they wouldn't have clinched the Wild Card spot -- which in turn would have kept the eventual world champion Cardinals from making the playoffs at all -- if Jair Jurrjens and 2012 Opening Day starter Tommy Hanson hadn't been sidelined.

"Last year is last year. We're going to have to answer questions everywhere we go," manager Fredi Gonzalez told MLB.com. "As long as we answer them in a positive manner, we'll be fine."

This season Chipper Jones will open the season on the DL following arthroscopic knee surgery and Tim Hudson is expected to be out the first month while finishing his rehabilitation from back surgery.

The Braves are concerned enough about Jones, who has already announced that he'll retire at the end of the year, that they acquired out-of-options third baseman Juan Francisco from the Reds on Sunday just in case. But they have largely the same cast back that was a legitimate contender for most of last season.

"There are not going to be many nights when when [an NL East team] is not going to be playing somebody else in the division," Gonzalez told MLB.com. "Every night is going to be an important game. It's going to boil down to health."

The Mets are more in "Ya gotta believe" territory, but Collins isn't conceding anything.

"I can't worry about other people's perceptions," Collins said. "I only have my own opinion, and my opinion of this team is that our lineup is a good lineup. We have good starting pitching.

"So I have expectations for these guys. And you know what? If you talk to each and every one of them, I think they have expectations, too. ... Good players don't want to be embarrassed, so they have some things they've got to prove to people."

The Mets have one thing going for them. Their all-time Opening Day winning percentage of .640 (32-18) is the best in history.

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