PHILADELPHIA -- Ryne Sandberg spoke optimistically about the future Sunday morning at Citizens Bank Park.
He had just signed the contract that made him the 52nd manager in Phillies history. He was excited about the possibilities.
But things will not be easy moving forward. The Phillies lost to the Mets a few hours later, 4-3, giving them a four-game losing streak and dropping them into a third-place tie with New York in the National League East. The Phillies clearly have many needs to address in the coming months before Spring Training begins in Clearwater, Fla. They entered the afternoon 25th in baseball averaging 3.84 runs per game, 26th with a 4.30 ERA and 27th with a minus-121 run differential.
"First of all, I think health is a priority and something that we need for next year," Sandberg said. "If you look at a healthy Ben Revere and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and J-Roll up the middle, see what happens with [Carlos] Ruiz behind the plate possibly, and Dom Brown. Then with young players, there will be opportunities for jobs to be won. And I think that's what Spring Training is all about. A little competition can go a long way.
"We've got some young players that have shown well these last 30 games. Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis, just to name a couple. Darin Ruf, [Cody] Asche. That's good young energy that you filter in and have them compete for jobs for next year and compete with veteran players. I think that's something that was needed here -- a little young energy in there, athleticism. We've seen some of these guys bring that."
But certainly the Phillies will need their veterans to carry the load. Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee allowed eight hits, three runs (two earned) and struck out eight in seven innings. He is 14-7 with a 2.93 ERA in 30 starts.
The Phillies must get good seasons from Lee and Cole Hamels to have any chance at all next year.
"I feel like I did OK," Lee said about his season. "I made it basically all year without really getting injured. I was able to take the ball and give the team a chance to win more times than not. As a starting pitcher that's my job, so I've got to feel pretty good about that."
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Kevin Frandsen hit a two-out double to center field to score Brown. The Mets tied the game in the fourth, but the Phillies retook the lead in the sixth. Jimmy Rollins doubled on a ball Mets right fielder Andrew Brown lost in the sun. He advanced to third on Utley's single to right and scored on Domonic Brown's one-out single to right.
But the Mets scored twice in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead. The third run of the game scored on an error by Brown in left field. The Mets added an insurance run in the eighth, but Ruf scored Ruiz to make it a one-run game.
Brown's error highlighted a concern entering the season for former manager Charlie Manuel: outfield defense.
Sandberg has seen improvement in the outfield since the spring.
"I think Domonic Brown has come a long way on his defense," he said. "I think that has carried over from [his success] at home plate. He's come a long way defensively. I think Darin Ruf has done a nice job considering everything, playing both corner positions. Down the stretch here, Hernandez, his lack of experience in center field has not really come into play. He's done a good job. It's something to build on. Always looking for improvement, that's for sure."
Asked again if he thinks improvement in the outfield is needed, Sandberg said, "Improvement is always needed. Good, sound fundamental baseball is always preached and always something to improve on."
Sandberg is correct. There are always improvements to be made, especially on a team that enters the final seven games of the season with a 71-84 record. They are the most losses for the Phillies since they dropped 97 in 2000 in Terry Francona's final season at the helm.
"You don't correct one thing," Rollins said. "You end the season and start over. Next season we'll have a bunch of young guys with that energy to start the year. A new manager starting fresh. Bullpen guys that came up during the year will start fresh. This is their season, their team going forward. They aren't thrown into a situation trying to get things right. It's done, it's over. They can feel like it's their season from the beginning. Us older guys, we have to continue to make sure they stay focused and going in the right direction."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.