Brandon Phillips on Braves' slide: 'We (bleeped) up'

PHILADELPHIA – Brandon Phillips has seen plenty in a 16-year major league career and formed some strong opinions. And if there ever was a point in his professional life where he was reluctant to express himself, well, he certainly is long past that stage.

Brandon Phillips received a warm welcome from the Cincinnati crowd when the Braves played the Reds this season in Cincy, where he spent the bulk of his career. (AP photo)

He’s in his first season with the Braves, who have spiraled to a 12-27 record since reaching the .500 point at 45-45 on July 16.

“The coaching staff, Snit’s (Brian Snitker) doing a great job,” Phillips said. “I feel like we should be doing way better for him. But it’s a learning stage….

“I just feel like once we got to .500, we were like, ‘Oh, we did our job.’ (Stuff) just hit the…. We just broke off. I feel like the city of Atlanta deserves more than what we’ve been giving them. But for myself, coming here, I feel like I can help that out and it’d be nice for me to just be here the rest of my career.”

More in a moment from Phillips on the Braves’ decline since reaching .500. First, a brief recap:

He had two hits including an RBI single Monday to drive in the Braves’ only run in a 6-1 loss to the Phillies, leaving the 36-year-old former Gold Glove second baseman-turned-third baseman just one hit away from becoming the 12th active major leaguer with 2,000 hits. Which he’s not ready to talk about until he gets there.

“I don’t even know how many more hits I need; I don’t really like to hear about those things,” Phillips said before Monday’s game, when I went over to ask him about needing just three hits to join teammate Nick Markakis in the 2,000-hit club, the initial point in my approach him at his locker. “I didn’t know that, but I’m not the type of person that worries about stuff like that.

“I don’t really think about that stuff until it happens. In this game anything can happen, so I don’t worry about things until they happen, really. That’s just how I’ve always been. I try my best not to worry about stats. Whatever happens, happens.”

Understandable, I said, but wasn’t quite ready to walk away with nothing on the subject. So I asked him if stats like 2,000 hits meant more to him than some other individual achievements since it meant he had put together a long and consistent career.

“You can ask me that question after I do it,” he said cordially, and he flashing that big, disarming smile that makes it impossible for you not to smile back. “I haven’t did it yet. How I look at it is, I just play baseball. Like I said, I haven’t done it yet, but if it happens, when it does happen, I can give you all the answers you want. But anything can happen. This game is crazy. I’ve seen crazy (stuff) happen, man.

“So until it happens – I wish I didn’t know I needed three more hits, but you just told me.”

Now he needs one more hit, so there’s a good chance Phillips joins the 2,000 hit club tonight at Philadelphia, seeing that he has a 13-game hitting streak and has batted .352 (25-for-71) with three homers and 10 RBIs in his past 16 games.

Phillips has hit .293 overall, which would be his third consecutive season above .290 if he keeps it up, and has 39 extra-base hits including 11 home runs, a .331 OBP, which would be his highest since .353 in an All-Star season in 2011. His .427 slugging percentage would be his highest since a .429 in 2012, when he finished 13th in the National League MVP balloting.

In 39 games since the All-Star break, he’s hit .319 with 13 extra-base hits, a .341 OBP and .798 OPS. But here’s the thing: The Braves are just 14-25 in those last 39 games he’s played.

And most importantly, the Braves are just 12-27 since they scratched and clawed to get their record to .500 at the 90-game mark.

There had been talk when they got to 45-45 that the Braves might be ahead of projections in their rebuild and might actually make a run at a wild-card spot. But those hopes have disintegrated in the weeks since for many reasons, of which Phillips has an opinion.

I reminded him Monday what he said a few weeks before the Braves got to .500, when he predicted once they got to .500 they would either soar and make a run at a playoff berth … or go the other direction. He was right. It was one or the other, and they have, indeed, gone the other direction. In a major way.

You hit the nail on the head, I said to him Monday. And Phillips smiled that knowing smile and offered one of those strong opinions he doesn’t hold back.

“I know baseball, man,” he said. “I know players, I know how things can happen. We were all grinding to get there. You could tell, our swag and everything was going toward getting there. We were hungry, we were like, ‘We’re almost there, we can do it.’ But the thing is, once we get there we’re either going to keep doing what we’re doing, or not. That’s the only way we could have won. And when we got there, we just (screwed) up. I just know that’s how it is.

“I said, once we get there we’re either going to go up or we’re going to go down. And we haven’t seen that (expletive) since….

“You’ll see what kind of team you are when you start winning. When you win, you see what type of players you have and you see what kind of team you have. And that’s what happened. It’s real. I did it when I was with Dusty (Baker, his former manager with the Reds). I saw when we were winning and losing. Being with Dusty for all them years when we were winning, either guys were stepping their game up and starting to be team players, or when you’re losing then people start being selfish.

“It’s kind of hard to win when you’ve got some guys being selfish and some guy who want to win. You have to be on the same page. It’s just how it is.

“That’s just baseball, man.”

By the way, for those wondering if the Braves’ decision at the beginning of August to supplant Phillips at second base with prospect Ozzie Albies and ask Phillips to play third base had soured the veteran on his previously stated desire to return to the Braves after his contract is up at the end of 2017, it has not.

But it also seems a long shot at best, and he said there have been no talks with the organization in that regard.

“Nobody’s really brought it to my attention,” he said. “It’d be nice to come back. This would be a nice play to finish my career, I’m from here, from Stone Mountain, but nobody’s really said nothing to me about it. So that’s just something I don’t worry about until it happens.”

But yes, he’d like to remain with the hometown Braves, if they’d want him back.

“Oh, yeah, that’d be nice. It’d be nice to come back here,” he said. “I love my teammates, I love the little youth movement that they’re doing. Freddie, Kemp’s going to be here for a little bit, Markakis gonna be here. It’s still young, basically the same thing as when I first came over here.”

Snitker, for one, has no doubts about Phillips being able to continue playing at a high level beyond this season.

“Yeah, especially playing third base. It’s kind of, I would think, less wear and tear on his body, not having to cover so much ground. As well as he’s played it, my God, I would think…. Because he can still hit. That rascal, he’ll be hitting when he’s 60. He’s one of those guys, you can throw him in the batter’s box and he’ll be able to hit. He’s ever going to probably not know how to hit.”

•  I'll close with another slice of Philly soul, here's the great Lou Rawls.

You'll never find, as long as you live

Someone who loves you tender like I do

You'll never find, no matter where you search

Someone who cares about you the way I do

Whoa, I'm not braggin' on myself, baby

But I'm the one who loves you

And there's no one else! No... one else

You'll never find, it'll take the end of all time

Someone to understand you like I do

You'll never find the rhythm, the rhyme

All the magic we shared, just us two

Whoa, I'm not tryin' to make you stay, baby

But I know some how, some day, some way

You are (you're gonna miss my lovin')

You're gonna miss my lovin' (you're gonna miss my lovin')

You're gonna miss my lovin' (you're gonna miss my lovin')

You're gonna miss, you're gonna miss my love

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh (you're gonna miss my lovin')

Late in the midnight hour, baby (you're gonna miss my lovin')

When it's cold outside (you're gonna miss my lovin')

You're gonna miss, you're gonna miss my love

You'll never find another love like mine

Someone who needs you like I do

You'll never see what you've found in me

You'll keep searching and searching your whole life through

Whoa, I don't wish you no bad luck, baby

But there's no ifs and buts or maybes

(You're gonna) You're gonna miss (miss my lovin')

You're gonna miss my lovin' (you're gonna miss my lovin')

I know you're gonna miss my lovin' (you're gonna miss mylovin')

You're gonna miss, you're gonna miss my love

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh (you're gonna miss my lovin')

Late in the midnight hour, baby (you're gonna miss my lovin')

When it gets real cold outside (you're gonna miss my lovin')

I know, I know that you are gonna miss my loove

Let me tell you that you're gonna miss my lovin'

Yes you will, baby (you're gonna miss my lovin')

When I'm long gone

I know, I know, I know that you are gonna miss my love

You gonna miss my love

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About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.