Sunday was proof that all is not always well that ends well. The Phillies finished the season with a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves that featured a solid three-inning start from rookie lefthander Ranger Suarez and six shutout innings from seven relievers — a classic "Bullpen by Gabe" ballgame. The Phillies headed into the offseason with a two-game winning streak, and if that does not get you excited, then your name is not Gabe Kapler.
"We fell short of our goal of winning the National League East," the manager said. "However, I was extremely proud of how our guys fought and grinded through the last out of the season. It was something that we talked about as a group a couple of days ago. Something that we focused on, finishing the season strong and heading into the offseason with momentum. I think we did exactly that."
Nope, can't give you that last one, Gabe. Momentum? After a sixth straight losing season? After a 17-34 finish? Terry Francona's 2000 Phillies finished 17-34, and all it got him was a pink slip.
"At this point, it's time for us to focus our attention on the fact that we made a huge improvement over 2017 and focus our attention on getting ready for spring training 2019," Kapler said.
Go with that, Gabe. Go with that.
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The next two days should be interesting, as general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail each get a turn to look back at the Phillies' epic collapse that dropped them from first place and 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5 to two games under .500 and 10 games behind the division-champion Braves on the final day of the season.
Klentak will speak to the media at 2:30 p.m. Monday, and MacPhail will speak Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. We already heard from the general manager during the team's final 0-8 road trip, and he made it clear that he still has full support for Kapler despite the team's collapse. We are likely to hear much of the same from MacPhail. I wrote for Sunday that we also need to hear from John Middleton, the team's managing partner who insisted the Phillies make a hard charge into the analytics age.
Among the interesting topics Klentak should be asked about today is how he sees the Phillies' pieces fitting together in 2019. There is not one position player you can say for sure will be starting at a particular spot on opening day in 2019. Rhys Hoskins could be in left field or at first base. Carlos Santana could be at first or third base. Maikel Franco could be at third base or, more likely, elsewhere. And the list goes on. It should be interesting to hear how Klentak addresses that issue.
Carlos Santana, in just his seventh start of the season at third base, made a sensational diving play before throwing out Braves catcher Tyler Flowers in the fourth inning Sunday. Our Matt Breen writes that moving Santana from first base to third base surprisingly makes sense for the Phillies.
Before the Phillies went out and won their season finale over the Braves, Rhys Hoskins took hold of a microphone and promised that the young Phillies will learn from their disappointing finish and return as a better team in 2019. Our Scott Lauber handled the final game story of the season.
The Phillies' 2018 season can now fade into memory, but plenty of questions will need to be addressed before they take the field again in 2019. Here's my column discussing those issues.
There have been some rumblings that the elite free agents might not want to sign with the Phillies this offseason because of Kapler's quirky style of running a team. Kapler made it clear that he does not think that will be the case.
Kapler said over the weekend that he is going to challenge center fielder Odubel Herrera to show up in spring training in better condition next year than he was in February. It was an interesting statement by Kapler because he had gushed that Herrera "physically presented beautiful" during the early day of spring training.
Bryce Harper or Manny Machado? Scott Lauber talked to executives from some other clubs to see which superstar free agent would be a better fit for the Phillies.
Today: No Phillies, but two cool showdowns for division titles: Brewers at Cubs, 1:05 p.m.; Rockies at Dodgers, 4:09 p.m. Both games will be on ESPN.
Tomorrow: Phillies president Andy MacPhail meets with the media, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 23: Game 1 of the World Series.
March 28: Opening day 2019 vs. Atlanta
Oddly, Cesar Hernandez did not want to speak after hitting a home run in the Phillies' 3-1 win over the Braves. It was his 15th home run of the season, which represented a career high. In fact, before this season he had only 17 career home runs. Still, his increase in power was also accompanied by a decline in other areas — his batting average fell by 41 points from .294 to .253 and his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) dropped 75 points from .793 to .718. Hernandez also had eight fewer extra-base hits despite an increase of 131 plate appearances.
Really have enjoyed this latest Phillies publication. My questions:
Is there some reason why they have kept playing [Jose] Bautista once the season was decided? I can't believe he will be back next year and they want to look at [Dylan] Cozens. I can't understand Kapler's thinking on this. I'd rather see them look over young players and give them a chance to perform and gain experience and the "management" a chance to evaluate them. Getting one or two AB's a game or pinch hitting doesn't seem that you give the player(s) a chance to see the pitcher and get the nerves out.
Second, in much the same theme, why do they keep playing Santana at third? Franco had an injury which explains that but what about putting [Scott] Kingery there. Saw [J.P.] Crawford make a couple fine plays there last year. Even Mitch Walding! If they are thinking about having Santana play there full time next year, then the Phillies are in trouble! Give these young guys a chance! I can't see their reasoning. They need to be thinking about the long run, 2019 and beyond, and making evaluations towards that, not concentrating on this game today! How will they know that these young guys can do the job unless they get put out there.
Look forward to reading Extra Innings over the winter (maybe more than once per week!) and staying informed on free agents, trades, signings, etc. I'm sure there'll be lots to cover with the Machado and Harper sweepstakes! Great job!
Paul F., via email
Answer: Thanks for the kind words, Paul. As for your questions, I'll take the Bautista one first. Cozens did make four starts after the Phillies were officially eliminated from contention, and he is also going to play winter ball in Puerto Rico. I think it's OK to give a well-respected veteran such as Bautista a chance to play on the final day of the season. One game is not going to make much difference in the evaluation process.