Monday, October 5, 2015

Phillies Finish Season With Win, Avoid 100 Losses

GAME RECAP: Phils Finish Fish 7-2

The Phillies and Marlins finished their seasons Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park without any postseason berths on the line, but with enough intrigue to make things interesting. The Marlins' Dee Gordon wrapped up the National League batting title, while the Phillies avoided their first 100-loss season since 1961 with a 7-2 victory. Oh, Ichiro Suzuki also made his first appearance as a pitcher, allowing two hits and one run in the eighth inning. "It feels kind of surreal," said Gordon, who was 3-for-4 and finished with a .333 batting average. "It don't think it hit me yet. But it was an amazing feeling when I walked up the stairs and my teammates were ready and congratulated me." David Buchanan looked good in 6 2/3 innings and Aaron Altherr had four RBIs to lead the Phillies. "We fought, grinded and clawed," Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "People can probably laugh and say, well, you still lost 99 games, but at the same time we made it our goal. We didn't want to lose 100. I thought we played really well here at the end of the season."

  • One of the Phillies' brightest spots in the second half of the season was Altherr, who showed a good bat, glove and speed. He doubled to score the game-tying run in the fifth inning and tripled to clear the bases and hand the Phillies a 6-2 lead in the seventh. He will get a good look next season as a Phillies outfielder. "We got a young team so it's going to take a little while to get a little comfortable," Altherr said. "But we made a lot of good strides, I think. I think it's definitely an exciting team to look forward to in the future."
  • Buchanan had a rough year, but he carries some positive momentum into the offseason. He allowed one earned run in 6 2/3 innings on Sunday to finish with a 2.01 ERA (five earned runs in 22 1/3 innings) in his final four starts. He posted a 9.11 ERA in his first 11. "The fact that I finished strong, hopefully I left a good taste in their mouth and I'm looking forward to the offseason, continuing to work and going to Spring Training and compete for a job," Buchanan said.
  • "I thought if Franco hits his 15th homer against Ichiro that does not count." -- Francoeur, who promised to buy Maikel Franco a suit if he hit 15 home runs this season. Franco was in the on-deck circle when Suzuki recorded his final out in the eighth. Francoeur said afterward he will buy Franco a suit anyway.
  • Ichiro, the 41-year-old wonder, has appeared in 2,357 MLB games. The iconic outfielder has 2,935 MLB hits. You can now chalk up one inning pitch to Ichiro's long list of accomplishments. With the Phillies in command, 6-2, Ichiro pitched the bottom of the eighth. He gave up one run on two doubles, to Odubel Herrera -- leading off the inning -- and Darnell Sweeney for an RBI. Ichiro faced five batters, and his fastball was as high as 87 mph.
  • The Phillies announced Triple-A left-hander Jesse Biddle will have Tommy John surgery on Oct. 14. Biddle, whom the Phillies selected in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft, went a combined 9-6 with a 4.95 ERA in 24 starts this season with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He posted a 6.25 ERA in nine starts with the IronPigs.
See you in 2016!


Playing For Something – In the end, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said 100 losses mattered to him. He had said for weeks he paid no attention to the possibility the Phillies could lose 100 games for the first time since 1961. But after the Phillies finished their season Sunday evening with a 7-2 victory over the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park to finish 63-99 (.389), he said he is happy they avoided it. "I lied to you. I didn't want to lose 100 obviously," Mackanin said. "I didn't want to lose 99. It's just good to end on a positive note." The Phillies still suffered their worst season since 1972, when they went 59-97 (.378). But the Phillies also showed some life and reasons to be optimistic about the future under Mackanin, who replaced Ryne Sandberg on June 26. The Phillies went 34-37 (.479) after the All-Star break, which is a small accomplishment considering the relative age and inexperience of the roster, plus the fact they played most of the second half without Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley, Ben Revere and Jake Diekman, each of whom were traded this season. "We didn't want to lose 100," said Jeff Francoeur, who hopes to return. "I thought we played really well here at the end of the season. A lot of things obviously that we have to work on … but it's been a blast to play for these guys and play for Pete. He really stabilized the environment in here and kind of regained the focus after everything that happened. It was a lot of fun." Now, that is not to say the Phillies will compete for the postseason next year, but there certainly should be improvement. Maikel Franco looks like a cornerstone at third base. Odubel Herrera is a talented young hitter. The Phillies have a couple potentially solid rotation pieces in Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff. Ken Giles is a solid closer. Players like Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Adam Morgan and others hope to take steps forward next year. The organization also hopes to see the continued development of a deep and talented Minor League system. "We've got a young team so it's going to take a little while to get a little comfortable," Altherr said. "But we made a lot of good strides, I think. I think it's definitely an exciting team to look forward to in the future." "As of right now the record doesn't matter," Giles said. "It's a matter of us getting experience and seeing the promise everybody provides for us. We've got younger guys ready to come up soon, we've got young guys that are already here and just need the time to get that experience. We just have to be patient with those guys so they can get that experience. That's all it'll take, and maybe the record will flip-flop next year or the year after that, it's just one of those things, you have to be patient for it."

Honoring Chooch – Carlos Ruiz has made his mark in Phillies history, and the Phillies honored him Sunday for one of his greatest accomplishments. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel presented Ruiz a painting for tying a Major League record catching four no-hitters: Roy Halladay's perfect game in 2010, Halladay's no-hitter in Game 1 of the 2010 National League Division Series; a combined no-hitter in September 2014 and Cole Hamels' no-hitter in July. Halladay offered a nice congratulatory message on Phanavision during the ceremony. “@CMBaseball41 presents gift to Chooch for being recognized for catching 4 no-hitters in his career! #Chooooooch— Phillies (@Phillies) October 4, 2015.

Ashburn Award Winner – On most days James Rodriguez, a member of the Phillies' ballpark operations department since 1989, does his job with little notice or recognition. That changed Sunday, at least for a few minutes, when Rodriguez was presented with the 2015 Richie Ashburn Special Achievement Award on the field before the season-ending game against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. The award, named after the late beloved broadcaster and Hall of Fame center fielder, is given annually to the member of the organization who demonstrates the same loyalty, dedication and passion for Phillies baseball that Ashburn did. It was presented by Ashburn's daughter, Jean, and granddaughter, McKenzie. "This just shows that [Ashburn] had a legacy out there and I'm trying to uphold it to the best of my ability. And this plaque shows that I've been doing the right thing," Rodriguez said. Rodriguez began his Phillies career working in the super boxes at Veterans Stadium. His duties now include deliveries, set-up and breakdown for special events, cleaning the clubhouses and umpire's room and general maintenance. He was nominated for this honor by Operations/Facility Director Mike DiMuzio. "While James' work is not 'seen' by many in the organization (he doesn't bring in marketing deals, isn't responsible for building physical items that may be viewed in the ballpark, etc.) his ability to perform his duties allows others to perform theirs," DiMuzio said. "James quietly goes about his job making certain all deliveries are properly accounted for and is also responsible, with Tony McClean, for the maintenance of the clubhouses. James has never refused an assignment and is always looking for the next project to accomplish. "His expanded role since we have moved to CBP has allowed the special events department to flourish. Throughout more than 25 years of employment, James rarely takes a day off and his attention to detail is superb. He is as friendly an employee as the Phillies have ever hired and has represented the ballpark operations department and the Phillies organization extremely well during his tenure." DiMuzio also noted that Rodriguez is also considered to be the organization's best dresser, best singer, best dancer, and arguably proudest grandfather. The fact that he works behind the scenes makes this recognition even more special, Rodriguez said. "It's more special because it shows I'm on the right track and that I'm doing things that need to be done in a proper way," he said. "This organization is my other family. Being here is like home away from home."

Moving On – If your favorite baseball team trades a franchise icon, it just might have fallen on hard times. If three are moved in one year, feel free to plan a vacation in October. If the manager abruptly hands in his resignation in the middle of the season, there's a pretty good chance things aren't going according to plan. If the general manager is let go before the final game is played, that's probably not a good sign. If there's a wrenching transition at the very peak of the organizational chart, there just may have been better days. If a team finishes with the worst record in the Major Leagues, well, you get the idea. And if all of that happens to the same team in the same year, you've got your 2015 Phillies, who finally pulled the curtain down on one of the longest seasons in recent memory Sunday with a 7-2 win over the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. At least that allowed them to avoid losing 100 games in a season for the first time since 1961. Change can be unsettling. Change can be tumultuous. Change can also be necessary and, in the long run, helpful. Which is where the Phillies are now, hoping all they've endured has prepared them to begin turning around what has been a breathtaking plunge since winning 102 games just four years ago. Just a year ago, when the Phillies closed out a last-place finish with a 2-1 home loss to the Braves, the public posture of the front office was still that they hoped to be a contender each and every year. Some of what has happened since could have been anticipated then. Much couldn't have. Jimmy Rollins, the best shortstop the franchise has ever employed, was traded to the Dodgers a week before Christmas. That was the signal that the rebuilding process was beginning. Cole Hamels, arguably the best left-handed starter the team ever developed, went to the Rangers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. A few weeks later, their best second baseman ever, Chase Utley went to the Dodgers. Ryne Sandberg's decision to step down as manager in June was shocking. The decision not to extend the contract of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn't ... except for the part where Amaro was widely praised for the haul of prospects he was able to get in return for trading his veterans. The hiring of Andy McPhail as club president returned stability to the upper echelons of the power structure. So did John Middleton's emergence as the strong, clear voice of the ownership group. Long-term predictions are a Hail Mary pass at best. But here's a look at three areas that should get a lot of attention before pitchers and catchers once again report to Clearwater, Fla., next Spring Training. Clubhouse chemistry. When Pat Gillick was general manager, he always tried to talk to a player face-to-face before trading for or signing him as a free agent. The Hall of Fame executive wanted to gauge whether the guy's personality would be a good fit. In recent years, the Phillies seemed to drift away from that approach. Talent often appeared to trump other concerns. Which is not to suggest that signing Jonathan Papelbon, to name one example, is the only reason the Phillies struggled. But when the tide turned, his response too often was to complain that he hadn't come here to lose or to make a lewd gesture in response to being booed. Not exactly the kind of guy you'd want in a foxhole with you. Amaro did McPhail and the next general manager a huge favor by convincing the Nationals to take Papelbon at the deadline. Conversely, that's a great reason to bring outfielder Jeff Francoeur and infielder Andres Blanco back. Officially, the front office hasn't ruled out the possibility of a Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf platoon at first base next season. Just looking at the numbers, especially Ruf against left-handed pitching, it makes sense. Realistically, however, it's time to move on. Howard obviously wasn't happy splitting time this season. And even if he bounced back and put up huge numbers, so what? He turns 36 next month and the Phillies need to search for long term solutions. For starters. If the 2016 season started tomorrow, the only two starting pitchers currently employed by the Phillies who could be penciled into the rotation with some assurance are rookies Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff. That's why interim general manager Scott Proefrock said Sunday that signing at least a couple veterans was a priority, along with adding bullpen depth, and that he expects to have some payroll flexibility to accomplish that. "Pitching is first and foremost," he said. Interestingly, he didn't rule out the possibility of adding an upper-tier starter, if the right guy is available, to take pressure of the youngsters. It's been a tough season. But that doesn't mean it was a wasted one. Opportunities were presented to unproven youngsters and many impressed. Rule 5 draft pick Odubel Herrera. The double-play combination of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. Catcher Cameron Rupp. Outfielder Aaron Altherr. Ken Giles seamlessly replaced Papelbon as closer. Nola and Eickhoff. Top prospects such as shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Andrew Knapp are also progressing through the system. Against that backdrop, manager Pete Mackanin was asked if there was any way he could view this season a success. "No. We don't want to lose. We want to win," he said. "But there are a lot of positives that came out of this." A lot went awry during the season that ended Sunday in Philadelphia. Now the Phillies have to try to build on the things that went right.

Interim Planning – Phillies interim general manager Scott Proefrock and manager Pete Mackanin reemphasized a few points with reporters before Sunday's season finale against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park: They plan to focus on pitching in the offseason, but do not expect them to pursue the top-tier free agents. That is something Phillies president Andy MacPhail made clear in Miami a couple weeks ago. Instead, expect the Phillies to pursue mid-level starters like Doug Fister, J.A. Happ, Bartolo Colon and others as well as a veteran relief pitcher or two. The Phillies want pitchers who can stabilize the pitching staff and bridge the gap from a rebuilding team to a potential postseason contender. "I think we're definitely looking for some veteran starting pitching," Proefrock said. If Ryan Howard returns he is expected to platoon at first base with Darin Ruf. Howard declined to speak with reporters Sunday. Carlos Ruiz is expected to return, despite the worst season of his career. "Chooch had a difficult year, but he was a great presence in the clubhouse, as was Ryan, and I think they're both guys our young players can benefit from being around going forward if they're still here," Proefrock said. "A lot of things can happen in the offseason, but if they're here we expect them to provide that type of leadership and productivity." If the Phillies value positive influences in the clubhouse then it makes sense for them to bring back Jeff Francoeur, who has said he would like to return next season. Francoeur entered Sunday's season finale hitting .261 with 13 homers, 45 RBIs and a .727 OPS in 118 games. "On a young team like this where we're trying to groom them to become hardnosed, everyday players playing professionally I think a guy like Frenchy is an ideal-type candidate," Mackanin said. "Same thing with [Andres] Blanco, same thing with Chooch. They play the game the right way and they communicate with their teammates very well and I think it's huge to have leaders by example." But will the Phillies try to resign Francoeur before they hire Ruben Amaro Jr.'s replacement? "I think if we feel like we want to move forward on something, obviously Andy can make that call," Proefrock said. "We have an exclusive negotiating window with those guys until they declare free agency. So if we decide organizationally we want to pursue them, we'll still have time to do that. We're having organizational meetings at the end of October so a lot of those things will be discussed at that particular point."

Coaches Invited Back – The first moves of the Phillies' offseason came shortly after they finished their 2015 season Sunday evening with a 7-2 win over the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin announced he has invited bench coach Larry Bowa, hitting coach Steve Henderson, pitching coach Bob McClure and first-base coach Juan Samuel to rejoin the coaching staff in 2016. Those four coaches have not yet made their decisions. Bullpen coach Rod Nichols and third-base coach John Mizerock will not be back. Sources said Bowa is scheduled to interview with the Marlins about their managerial vacancy. Coach Jorge Velandia joined the coaching staff midseason. It is unclear if he will remain on the coaching staff or return to his previous role as the Phillies' special assistant to player personnel. "It's an organizational-type thing," Mackanin said. "We feel like we need to change. We're going to look at the mix of the coaches and zero in on however we feel we can help." Samuel said he does not want to finish his career as a first-base coach. But with Mizerock gone, Samuel could slide back to third base, where he coached for the Phillies in 2011-12. "We're going to look at a lot of candidates and determine which is the best way for us to go," Mackanin said. "Defense and base running are important. We'll have more info on that as we look at the candidates." Asked why Henderson and McClure have been invited to return, Mackanin said, "I like both of their passion. I think they're good with the young guys. I think we've seen some improvement with some of the guys, Freddy [Galvis], Cesar [Hernandez], even [Maikel] Franco. He's been brought along nicely. They've both had passion for what they're doing and they care about the players and their work ethic is outstanding." Additionally, bullpen catchers Bob Stumpo and Jesus Tiamo have been asked to return.

You, Sir, Are No Phanatic! – The Phillie Phanatic is widely considered one of the best mascots in all of sports: It's fluffy and weird and spirited and spontaneous. Plus, he's got some killer dance moves. But, what if the Phanatic had an evil twin that was as vile and terrifying as the authentic Phanatic is friendly and enthusiastic? Well, turns out he does and it was in the stands for a doubleheader between the Phillies and Marlins on Saturday. There's no way that thing has a reflection. The ushers should have provided fans with cloves of garlic to keep it at bay and, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go plug in an extra nightlight to pretend I'm going to be able to sleep tonight.

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 63-99. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances this season, this has ended up being one of the worst seasons in franchise history! All time, the Phillies are 7-10-0 on this day.

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