ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler knows what the Atlanta Braves were feeling as they streamed euphorically out of the dugout Saturday after clinching the National League East with a 5-3 win over the Phillies. As a player, Kapler was a World Series champion with the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
Nonetheless, Kapler lingered on the top step of the dugout and watched the Braves celebrate for several moments after they had eliminated his Phillies from contention (see story).
“I think it's important to feel the blow of that,” Kapler said. “Because up until a couple of days ago, I felt like we had a chance to be the ones having that moment at our ballpark. And I never came off that position because I always thought it to be possible, and I always believed in the players in that room. I think there's some value in just allowing the sting of that to sink in and acknowledge it and use it as motivation for next season.”
The Braves are NL East champs for the first time since 2013. They went 68-93 in 2016 and 72-90 last year, finishing 25 games out of first place. The Braves considered replacing manager Brian Snitker after last season. They stuck with him and now he is a strong candidate for NL manager of the year.
Kapler’s name was being mentioned as a manager of the year candidate when the Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the division by 1½ games on Aug. 5. The Phillies are 15-28 since then. There are eight games remaining in the season and the Phils need to win half of them to have their first winning season since 2011. They went 66-96 last season.
Beyond saying that Aaron Nola would make his scheduled start Sunday, Kapler was not ready to say how he would approach the final eight games of the season.
“This is a really important moment to reflect back to the beginning of the season and even the offseason,” he said. “Yes, we feel disappointment. But if we had said that we were going to be playing a meaningful game on Sept. 22, I think a lot of people would've said that that's not a reasonable thought. On the flip side, this is ultimately a sting. This hurts. But I'm really proud of the guys in that room for putting us in this position and for fighting to be in Atlanta with kind of the season on the line today.”