- Associated Press - Monday, February 21, 2011

JUPITER, FLA. (AP) - Edwin Rodriguez knew something was up, because his phone would not stop ringing.

One call. Then another. And another. By the Florida Marlins‘ manager’s count, about half of the clubhouse dialed him up when the Philadelphia Phillies won the Cliff Lee sweepstakes this winter and made an already-strong rotation perhaps the most anticipated in baseball history.

Yes, the Marlins noticed.

“The guys called me, just to let us know, ‘We’re going to be ready,’” Rodriguez said.

Say this for the Marlins: They don’t lack confidence.

It’s an annual rite: Florida shows up for spring training, and some other team is the talk of the NL East. It’s more true this year than perhaps ever, with most eyes around baseball centered on Philadelphia. The Marlins don’t mind, and even before the first pitch of exhibition season ball has been thrown, they’re already convinced they can hang with anyone.

Even the Phillies.

“I think it’s fair to say the Marlins have been under the radar before, maybe even after we won it all in ‘03,” Florida President Larry Beinfest said. “We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. I don’t think our players think about it, either. There’s a winning atmosphere here. I think there’s a winning tradition here. No matter what our obstacles are, we’re going to try to compete and win.”

In the NL East, easier said than done.

Optimism is omnipresent each spring, of course, but there’s more than a bunch of clubs with false hope in the Marlins‘ division. The Mets and Nationals _ who finished behind the Marlins last season _ both figure to be better. Atlanta won 91 games in 2010 and had baseball’s best home record on the way to the NL’s wild-card.

Then there’s the Phillies. Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, three-time All-Star Roy Oswalt and 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels are holdovers, and Lee was baseball’s most-coveted pitcher this winter who wound up taking less money to return to Philadelphia’s rotation. And lest anybody forget the lineup that still has Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.

It’s easy to see why Philliesmania reigns, and why the Marlins seem relatively anonymous.

“I think we’re used to not getting the attention,” Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson said. “I think we like it. It’s part of being the underdog. We don’t need the attention. We don’t want the attention. I don’t, personally.”

Even before Lee went to Philadelphia, the Marlins had plenty of ground to make up in the NL East.

Florida was 17 games behind the Phillies a year ago and went 5-13 against the division champions, the highlight _ or lowlight _ being Halladay’s perfect game in Miami last May.

“Everybody’s talking about the Phillies, Cliff Lee, Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt,” Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez said. “Those guys, they have a good rotation. They have everything. We have a younger staff and they have great pitchers, but we are too. So we go pitch-by-pitch, day-by-day, do what we have to do. They won’t win all their starts.”

Of Florida’s 13 losses to the Phillies in 2010, five were by one run, including Halladay’s perfect game.

The way Florida sees it, that means they’re right there with one of baseball’s elite clubs. When Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria spoke last week about the looming season, he didn’t speak specifically of how his club matches up with Philadelphia, but said he considered Florida to be a playoff-caliber team in 2011.

“I match my guys up with anybody,” Loria said.

When the Phillies landed Lee, they were able to beat out bigger-money offers from the Yankees and Rangers. Lee took about $30 million less over the life of his deal to sign with Philadelphia, saying it was the best way for him to chase championships.

Beinfest took notice, as did those players who called Rodriguez.

The Phillies are the standard in the NL East, and they’re clearly Florida’s target.

“I usually don’t talk about other teams, but they’re packing their stadium, they’re run very well and they have a very good team,” Beinfest said. “So I wasn’t necessarily surprised. Maybe I was surprised as all you guys that he was going somewhere else and ultimately he ended up there. But that’s out of our control. Now we need to go out and try to battle.”