ATLANTA -- A large bandage covered the seven stitches required to close a gash on Cody Asche's chin suffered when a Domonic Brown throw struck him. Everyone in the visitors' clubhouse at Turner Field dispersed around Asche for a long winter. The 23-year-old third baseman personified the gruesome end to the worst Phillies season in 13 years.
Asche, a promising rookie, likewise represents the future for a once-proud franchise outscored by 139 runs in 2013. It is not without peril. Asche tired at this season's conclusion; he finished 2 for his last 31 and with blood on his pants.
"Baseball," he said, "will do that to you."
The 162nd game -- a 12-5 loss to the Braves -- was unwatchable, and these Phillies deserved nothing more. It died at 5:05 p.m. when Justin Upton slid to catch a sinking liner hit by Cesar Hernandez. Two Atlanta employees carried a large sign to commemorate the Braves' division championship and set it in front of the mound. The Phillies hustled to the airport.
"This isn't the situation you envision going into spring training," Chase Utley said. "If there is a bright side, it gives us an opportunity to get to work a little bit sooner. We can start improving next week."
So much is needed. The Phillies' 73-89 record is their worst since 2000, which was Terry Francona's final season as manager. No National League team posted a worse run differential than the Phillies' minus-139.
They scored 3.77 runs per game, their fewest since 1988. They displayed a consistent inability to reach base by drawing 2.57 walks per game. That was the franchise's worst rate since 1963. The team's .248 batting average and .306 on-base percentage were its lowest since 1991.
At least they homered Sunday. Erik Kratz smashed a three-run shot that barely cleared the left-field fence for the Phillies' first home run in 10 games. That was their longest drought in 24 years.
Manager Ryne Sandberg went 20-22 as Charlie Manuel's replacement. Sandberg saw a team that wilted at the season's conclusion because of injury and inexperience.
"When everything's pieced together," Sandberg said, "and with some additions, I don't think it's that far off with the guys we have."
Contention was further than ever Sunday. Hernandez, a second baseman dabbling in center field, dropped one ball and booted another. Six Phillies arms threw 184 pitches to withstand eight brutal innings. None of those pitchers began the season with the Phillies.
The loss guaranteed the Phillies a top 10 pick in next June's draft. That is significant because the pick -- and the bonus money associated with it -- is protected should the Phillies sign a free agent tied to compensation. They, instead, forfeit their second-round selection.
In the coming days, the Phillies will cleanse their 40-man roster of the late-season fodder that allowed them to survive a brutal September. The first order of business beyond that is to secure a new coaching staff. Longtime pitching coach Rich Dubee may be replaced.
"We have some quality people here," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I'm talking to Ryne about it. I'm talking to my own staff about what's best and how we can best support him. That's probably the first thing."
The players dressed in silence Sunday evening and exchanged hugs. Sandberg ripped up the final lineup card and tossed it in a trash can. Brown bid farewell to his manager.
"Work hard," Sandberg told him. "Have a good winter."
Meaningful baseball returns to Philadelphia in seven months.
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