ATLANTA — Ronald Torreyes swung through a slider Thursday night, striking out on three pitches to finish a 5-3 loss and sending the Braves players into a frenzy toward the pitcher’s mound as they celebrated their fourth straight division title.
The Phillies came to Truist Park this week knowing they had to sweep the Braves to keep their postseason chances alive. They fumbled their chance in the season’s second half to pad their record against some of baseball’s worst teams, so their last chance would be to take three from Atlanta.
But that always seemed like an uphill climb. And it was. They were outplayed for three days. The Phillies who leaned on the dugout rail at game’s end were left almost motionless as they watched their rivals toast the National League East crown and another trip to the postseason.
Playoff baseball, which felt like an October ritual a decade ago, will skip Philadelphia for the 10th straight season.
“I feel like I failed getting us to where I wanted to get to,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “I always take responsibility, full responsibility. I failed, and it’s a really empty feeling. Because there’s a lot of time that goes into this and a lot of work. It stinks. It hurts, right? We’ve been going at this really since the last day of last year, you know? From a mental standpoint, from a physical standpoint, and it hurts. We have to get better. That’s the bottom line. We need to break this. We’ll go to work on doing that.”
It is the longest drought in the National League and it could be the longest in the majors if Seattle, which last reached the playoffs in 2001, captures the second American League wild card.
“You don’t have to explain the feeling that you get, but it’s never a good feeling,” Andrew McCutchen said. “We knew what we needed to do a long time ago. They were the better team. They were the better team this entire time in these three games. They deserve everything they have right now. We didn’t do what we needed to do to continue to keep playing and have a chance to make the playoffs.”
The Phillies won their 81st game on Saturday, which made their first winning season since 2011 seem like a certainty as they had to win just one of their final seven games. But they have lost four straight and they’ll need to win one of their three games this weekend in Miami to finish above .500 and somewhat salvage a disappointing season.
“To me there’s one reason to put this uniform on and it’s to win. That’s it, right? Bottom line,” Girardi said. “For everyone involved. For ownership, for the front office, for the fans, for the players, for the coaches. Everyone that puts time into this. ... That’s why we put this uniform on. Yeah, there are some things that you can take from the season and you can say, well, there were some improvements there and there, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done. And to me that’s the only reason to put this uniform on and it’s to compete and to win.”
The Phillies started the season by sweeping the Braves in South Philly and they were eliminated from playoff contention almost exactly six months later by being swept in Atlanta by the Braves. The Phillies, Girardi said, have to “find a way to get to their level.”
They scored just six runs in the three-game series to all but finish a frustrating season. They’ll fly to Miami for three games to play out the season while Atlanta preps for another postseason.
“I see the commitment from Mr. [John] Middleton and the Buck family and Dave Dombrowski, Sam Fuld, and everyone involved. I see the commitment to getting back to where this franchise needs to be. This is a proud franchise,” Girardi said. “We need to break this streak. We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to do everything we can to do it. I can tell you that. There is such a commitment from the top down. We’re going to do everything we can.”
Gibson ends his season
Kyle Gibson allowed a leadoff homer by Jorge Soler on the sixth pitch he threw and finished his season by allowing four earned runs in 4⅓ innings.
Gibson had a 2.87 ERA in 19 starts with Texas before moving at the trade deadline to the Phillies. He pitched in 11 games, 10 of which were starts, and posted a 5.09 ERA with the Phils. His numbers with the Phillies resembled his career more than his first half with Texas did. The 33-year-old right-hander is under contract for next season.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to pitch better,” Gibson said. “I think there were games where I could’ve been better at limiting the damage and executed a pitch here or there. But also try to be realistically critical of myself. Try to not be too unrealistic when it comes to looking back at games. There were quite a few games where I executed pitches and the ball didn’t go my way. That might sound like an excuse, but that’s kind of how baseball goes.”
Gibson was an All-Star with Texas, but he’ll slot in next season as a back-of-the-rotation arm who can be expected to be a league-average starter. And that’s fine. The Phillies, who struggled to fill their rotation this season, will need dependability from their fourth and fifth starters.
Bryce Harper willed the Phillies into playoff contention this week, but the weight of carrying the team for 10 weeks seems to be taking its toll. He went 0-for-4 on Thursday, went hitless in the series, and has just three hits over 22 at-bats in the last week.
Harper still leads the majors in OPS, but it has dropped in four games from a season-high 1.056 to 1.033, which is the lowest it has been in two weeks. He has started 69 straight games and has not had a day off since June 27. With the Phillies eliminated, Harper should get at least one game to rest this weekend.
Riley for MVP?
The conversation for the National League’s MVP has narrowed to Harper and Washington’s Juan Soto, but don’t count out Atlanta’s Austin Riley. The third baseman hit a solo homer in the fourth and drove in five runs in the series.
The 24-year-old, once a top prospect, emerged this year after two subpar seasons. Riley, Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies give the Braves a potent punch in the heart of their order. He’s hitting .331 since the All-Star break with 18 homers and a .971 OPS. Riley leads the NL in hits and RBIs in the second half. The fans chanted “M-V-P” as he came to the plate each time and they have a strong case to make.