Phillies finish season with loss to Braves
ATLANTA - Zach Miner, who before last month hadn't appeared in the big leagues since 2009, made his third straight start.
Erik Kratz, who was a 32-year-old rookie last year, ended the franchise's longest home-run drought in 24 years.
John Mayberry Jr. came off the bench and reached on an error, a fitting likely end to his era with the team. Michael Martinez, having one of the worst seasons in baseball history, came in during a double switch to replace All-Star outfielder Domonic Brown, who failed to hit a home run in the season's final 6 1/2 weeks.
It all made a perfect script for the end of the Phillies' 2013 season.
A seven-game road trip during which just two regular starting pitchers took the mound - and a forgettable summer of Phillies baseball - came to a conclusion with a 12-5 defeat to the National League East champion Atlanta Braves yesterday afternoon at Turner Field.
The Phillies lost nine of their final 11 games, finished the season in fourth place, 23 games behind Atlanta, with only the 100-loss Miami Marlins behind them in the NL East.
"This isn't the situation you envisioned going into spring training," second baseman Chase Utley said. "If there is a bright side, it gives us an opportunity to get to work a little bit sooner . . . It basically gives us an opportunity to get a 4-week head start."
In yesterday's season finale, Miner and the Phillies were down by 3-0 four batters into the game. Miner was gone after 2 1/3 innings.
The Phils trailed 5-0 after three innings and the Braves pounded out 17 hits en route to a an easy victory, their 96th of the season.
The Phillies, just 2 years removed from posting their franchise-record 102nd victory on the very same field, the most wins in baseball in 2011, finished their 2013 campaign with 89 losses. It's their highest loss total since they went 65-97 in 2000.
Those Phillies were led in innings pitched by Robert Person and Randy Wolf. These Phillies had Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and the third-highest Opening Day payroll in all of baseball.
Utley, the unofficial leader in the clubhouse, re-signed with the team 2 months ago and sounded hopeful that the Phillies are not an aging team with a window of opportunity closing but instead a club experiencing a 2-year blip.
"I do [feel that way]," Utley said. "Obviously, there is some work that needs to be done. We need to improve on all aspects of the game. I think we have some guys in here who are willing to put the work in and the time in and have an understanding of how important it is to win on a daily basis."
In 2013, the Phillies' offense scored 610 runs while their pitching yielded 749 runs.
Their 139-run differential was the worst in the National League and the third-worst in baseball. The Phils hit .248 with a .306 OBP.
Yet Ryne Sandberg, who replaced Charlie Manuel 6 weeks earlier, was hopeful.
"I would say generally speaking we struggled to score runs and need to improve on that," said Sandberg, who saw the Phils go 20-22 after he took over in mid-August. "[Ben] Revere and [Ryan] Howard [missed time] . . . [Carlos Ruiz] was not here for an extended amount of time, and when he was here the offense picked up. So when everything's pieced together and with some additions, I don't think it's that far off, with the guys we have."
But then there's the pitching. The Phillies ended the season with a 4.32 ERA; at the conclusion of yesterday's game, only three teams in baseball had a higher ERA.
Despite having $71.5 million tied into their starting rotation at the beginning of the year, Phillies starters had a ghastly 5.31 in 66 games since the All-Star break.
Then again, no pitcher in the game for the Phillies yesterday was on the Opening Day roster, finishing off a week when just two regular starters, Hamels and Lee, took the mound.
"As it turned out, three out of the four games turned into bullpen days," Sandberg said. "That's a tough go."
Even the player who was arguably the bright spot in a dim season saw his 2013 come to a disappointing end.
Brown, their former top prospect, broke through to not only become an everyday player for the first time in his career, but he made the All-Star Game, too. But after hitting .273 with 23 homers in 95 games before the break, Brown hit .270 with four home runs in 44 games after the break.
Brown, who battled concussion and Achilles' injuries in the second half, had just nine extra-base hits after the All-Star break. He went homerless in his last 31 games (102 plate appearances) of the season.
"You have half a season like that for the first time and pitching adjusts to you," Sandberg said. "It's a game of adjustments. I wouldn't call it a concern."
At least the Great September Home Run Drought ended yesterday.
With the Phillies trailing, 5-0, Kratz ripped a Julio Teheran pitch that barely cleared the leftfield fence for a three-run homer. The homer was the first for the Phillies since Utley's on Sept. 17 at Citizens Bank Park.
The 10-game homerless drought was the longest for the Phillies since 1989, when they went 11 straight games without a long ball (June 25-July 5). Dwayne Murphy ended that stretch with a two-run shot at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium off the Braves' Pete Smith.
Yesterday's home run was also Kratz' first since June 7. There obviously wasn't much celebrating afterward.
After winning five straight division titles, and two NL pennants and a World Series championship, too, the Phillies packed their bags in Atlanta and went home without a trip to the postseason for the second straight year. Whether they're a team in transition or one with a chance to return to the postseason in 2014 won't be known until well after a winter during which changes to the roster are inevitable.
The influx of new blood in the season's final 2 months - Cody Asche, Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis - had Sandberg spinning it positive as 2013 came to an end.
"I felt like energy and athleticism was needed," Sandberg said. "We saw some of that with Asche, Freddy Galvis and Hernandez. They got some time and games under their belt. It's a combination of the veteran guys, some young guys and some possible guys who could come in. I'm looking forward to that process and to be a part of it."
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21