Phillies fall to Mets, guarantee losing season

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Phillies fall to Mets, guarantee losing season

BOX SCORE

It was hardly a milestone anyone in the Phillies’ clubhouse was interested in talking about, and who could blame them? After all, the 6-4 loss to the New York Mets on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park sewed up the first losing season for the franchise since 2002 (see Instant Replay).

That 2002 club went 80-81, but they fell out of it early, falling nearly 20 games out of first place by the trade deadline. When September rolled around, the Phillies knew big changes were looming. Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood joined the team in December and a new ballpark was nearly complete.

The 80-81 season was nothing but a minor blip as the Phillies focused on building a perennial contender.

These days, with a losing season wrapped up and nine games left to play, changes appear to be looming again. Only this time there is no Thome or Millwood to add to the roster. Instead, veterans like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon should be back in 2014. Young players like Cody Asche, Dom Brown and Darin Ruf will be in the mix, too.

Needless to say, there are no plans for a new stadium any time soon.

But in the subdued atmosphere in the Phillies’ clubhouse, no one knows what to expect. They just know things will be different.

“It’s all part of going through this,” interim manager Ryne Sandberg said after the loss. “Sometimes it takes a losing season to build and start the process, and with that a lot of these guys have had a chance to play and gain experience and that’s where you start the rebuilding process. I think there are a lot of good things that have been going on the last few weeks.”

Hamels had been one of the good things for the Phillies over the last few weeks. Though he was dealt a career-worst 14th loss on Friday night, the Phillies had won seven straight games the lefty started going into the game against the Mets and he had a 6-2 record with a 2.32 ERA in his last 14 outings.

In Friday’s game, Hamels found himself trying to recover from a three-run first inning in which Eric Young Jr. wreaked havoc on the base paths with a leadoff double and stolen base and David Wright clubbed a homer in his first plate appearance since Aug. 2.

Hamels battled after the first inning, racking up eight strikeouts without a walk in seven innings. But when the Mets got a runner on base with less than two outs against Hamels, they got the run in.

“It’s kind of a law of averages. There’s going to be days where your stuff’s unbelievable and they’re hitting you all over the ball park," Hamels explained, "and days that your stuff’s very suspect and you walk away with quite a few scoreless innings.

“You just have to give the other team credit for putting the bat on the ball and fighting because it doesn’t make it easy, especially this late in the season, it’s going to be a fight. Ultimately, what you want to see at this type of level is the competitiveness coming out from both sides. Still playing baseball like it means something.”

Hamels hasn’t played meaningless baseball at this point in the season, well … ever. Since becoming a piece in the Phillies’ rotation midway through the 2006 season, the Phillies have always been right in the mix for a playoff berth. However, with a losing season now on the resume, Hamels has to wonder if the Phillies can get back to being contenders again. After all, Hamels was one of those guys whose emergence pushed the Phillies over the top on the way to five straight division titles and two trips to the World Series.

Contenders in 2014?

“I hope so. I know we have a lot to work on and if it doesn’t fire you up and motivate you for the offseason, I don’t know what does,” Hamels said. “That’s what I’ll take into the offseason is trying to win and to do my job even better. Just having the pride knowing the fans and the organization want to see a winning team, and I want to be a part of it.”

In the meantime, the Phillies have to play this one out. They will get back at it against the Mets on Saturday night -- weather permitting -- when Tyler Cloyd (2-5, 5.06) takes on right-hander Dillon Gee (11-10, 3.47).

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."