The Impossible Math Behind Phils’ Playoff Hopes – Phillies Nation

The Impossible Math Behind Phils’ Playoff Hopes

Roy Halladay will need to lead the Phillies to 7 out of 10 wins for the rest of the season for the Phils to have a shot at the playoffs. I'd be sweating, too, Roy. Photo: AP

With the Phillies’ win yesterday against the struggling Rockies, the Fightins moved to 11 games behind co-Wild Card Leaders Atlanta and Pittsburgh with six teams in between. At this point, the Phils need to just win, but for those keeping track at home the Phillies need to scale seven of the following eight teams in the standings to make the playoffs: Atlanta, Pittsburgh, LA, St. Louis, New York, Arizona, Miami, and Milwaukee.

While scoreboard watching is fun, and there are a few catachable teams in front of the Phils, the Phils’ greatest enemy is now time as the math becomes more and more impossible to reach the playoffs. The advent of the second Wild Card spot was supposed to help more teams be competitive and for all intents and purposes, it likely will.  On average, however, teams who would have qualified for the second Wild Card in previous years finished an average of just 2.32 games out of the Wild Card and 9 times were one game or less out of the playoffs meaning those teams were pretty competitive regardless.

Still, the second Wild Card is one of the few outs the Phillies may have at reaching the playoffs. In the 17 previous seasons that the Wild Card existed, the team that would have reached the playoffs via the second Wild Card averaged just a hair over 89 wins, with a minimum of 86 wins in 2000 and a maximum of 96 wins in 1999. At 39-51, the Phils would require quite a bit of luck and several long winning streaks to put them in that range.


Above is a graph noting where each of the teams who would have won the second Wild Card, had it existed, from 1996 to 2011 (1995 was not used because it was not a full season). 89 wins would have gotten teams in 11 of 16 years. The average + 1 Standard Deviation clocks in at just under 92 wins and would have gotten 14 out of 16 teams in, while the average – 1 Standard Deviation would be just over 86 wins, which would have been good enough for just 2 of 16 teams to make it. For the Phillies to have the best chance to make the playoffs, 89 wins would give them better than a 50/50 shot (68.75%) to make it, with 90 wins increasing the chances to seeming 13 of 16 (81.25%). 86 to 88 wins will get them in the conversation.

Yet, at 39-51, even 86 wins seem far away. Here is what it would take to get to the following win totals:

81 wins, to reach .500: 42-30 (58.33%, better winning percentage than either WC team current has and only behind Washington’s winning percentage.)

86 wins: 47-25 (65.27%)

87 wins: 48-24 (66.67%, 2 out of 3 the rest of the way)

88 wins: 49-23 (68.05%)

89 wins: 50-22 (69.44%)

90 wins: 51-21 (70.83%)

91 wins: 52-20 (72.22%)

To have a realistic shot at the playoffs, the Phillies need to win nearly exactly 7 out of 10 games from now until the rest of the season if history is any indication of what it would take to reach the second Wild Card; 2 out of 3 may not be good enough to do it, but it would get them close.

In this there is some good news: the Phillies finally have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back with Roy Halladay set to return Tuesday, 37 of their last 72 games are at home, and on paper, their squad is better than at least the three teams directly in front of them: Milwaukee, Miami, and Arizona. With their full squad, they have a number of opportunities to pick off teams in front of them, as 55 out of their last 72 are games against teams in front of them.

But there are harsh realities. Those 55 of 72 against teams in front of them, and for argument’s sake, this includes the Nationals, could just as easily push them out of the race quicker out of a slow week. The Nationals are likely as good as their record indicates with only more reinforcements and improvements to come, specifically Jayson Werth and Mike Morse to full health and the Phillies see the Nats 12 more times. And of the 17 games not included of teams that sit directly infront of them, 3 are against the first place Giants and 7 against the first place Reds.

The Phillies Wild Card elimation number sits at 63 and with each return from injury, optimism grows brighter and brighter. But with one of the toughest schedules in MLB in front of them, and the realistic need to win 7 out of 10 to have any shot at reaching the playoffs, the Phillies playoff hopes, while existant, are very dim at this point in the season.

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  1. Chuck A.

    July 16, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Let me be the first to say on this thread that the Phillies will not make the playoffs.

  2. Ken Bland

    July 16, 2012 at 8:37 am

    There are enough great second half runs scattered through history that through the tunnelvision view of just that, you can find creedence in Yogi’s, “ain’t over til it’s over.”

    What those clubs have in common, dating back to the Miracle Boston Braves, through the ’51 Giants, and through last year’s Rays and Cards is a mystery to me. Luck and hot seem to be common denominators, but I can’t help but wonder if those clubs avoided glaring weaknesses like the Phils middle relief, and combined balanced skill factors with hot and luck.

    One thing I do know is the difficulty of the spread. The ’76 Phils led the Pirates by 15 as late as 8/27, and by 9/17, the lead was 3. Even if the Phils were to get hot, they still have a mountain to climb. The Pirates might have run out of gas, losing the division by 9 games after the 3 game deficit was hit as the last 15 games or so played out. But it’d be fun to start the trek up that mountain, and see where stamina falls short. That’s the only realistic goal that seems visible to me at this point. And within that, you have to also consider trade options that strengthn you for a more realistic run in the future that weaken you now. That makes it either a mess, or a challenge, depending on if you’re an optimist, or pessimist.

    • Ryne Duren

      July 16, 2012 at 9:39 am

      ken agree on your post. my thoughts on the phils is that they do have the potential to do it with this starting staff. the cards bullpen was horriblr last year. then they made a few moves at the trade deadline picked up a few pieces and all of a sudden they got hot! the difference with the phils is i don’t think they’re gonna do that. and we have coles pending free agency hanging over our heads. 1 through 5 our starters are better than the cards was last year even now the starters aren’t pitching like they were last year cept hamels. but who’s to say they can’t get a hot streak going. it’s all on the pen and risp. if they can improve on those two they have a chance! if you remember last years second half was monumental. take that 10 game span out in sept and it’s posible we could have had 6 or 7 more wins. the only reason we didn’t was because cholly desided to rest the regulars, and as history shows the phils don;t play or hit well when they come off a day off. i think it’s affecting howard and utley not playing every day! they can’t get any consistency going. until those two do we’re just gonna play at best .500.

      they might have a chance if they get hot they are basically the same team with a much better bench. but again it’s the pen! yes i feel we have a run. i still have hope cause if they were to make it, it would be sweeter than 08. BUT they have a huge hill to climb and there might not be enough games left to achieve that. there’s just so many things that have to happen that it looks like it isn’t. imagine if we has some rbi production from LF and 3rd base also.

    • David

      July 17, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      The 1978 Pirates were 51-61 and finished 88-73 and almost caught the Phillies that year. That is a 37-12 finish. The 2010 Phillies were 48-46 and finished 97-65.

      All the team can do is play the games. Each time they win, the math gets a little better. Each time they lose, the math gets a little worse.

      It’s very unlikely that they will make the playoffs but that’s why they play the games. I think the people doing the stats on playoff odds had the Cardinals out last year.

      Regarding Rollins and Victorino, I defer to Branch RIckey and say “better a year early than a year late.”

  3. "Big Ed" Delahanty

    July 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

    “Never tell me the odds…” – Han Solo
    But seriously, it is looking mighty, mighty grim.


    July 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Let’s stop the dreaming. Phillies in the playoffs in 2012 — no way !!!

  5. Dave P

    July 16, 2012 at 9:50 am

    ESPN put it this way (article may be a couple of days old) – Phillies took away any chances of reaching the playoffs after going 10-25 since June 1st.

    Let’s all just hope for a respectable .500 record.

    • Chuck A.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

      That sounds reasonable at this point. Try to get to .500…maybe a few games above…..and play a good brand of baseball over the next 70+ games. Take the year off from the postseason and come back stronger next season. I’m fine with that.

  6. Psujoe

    July 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I’d rather sign Hamels, get what we can for guys that won’t be back, see what brown has, use howard and utley sparringly to keep them healthy and get a top 6 pick. Start 2013 fresh.

  7. Manny

    July 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

    All that matters right now is that we’re 11 games behind in the WC race. I certainly think this team is capable of making up for that difference in 2.5 months of baseball.

    • Chuck A.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

      The catch: 7 teams in front of them.

      • Manny

        July 16, 2012 at 11:35 am

        True. But 3 of those 7 are in our division so we get to play them a lot… gotta win those series, that’s for sure. Almost all of our September games are against teams in the NL East.

        And we have some key series against the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Brewers (2), Reds (2). Dodgers and Brewers are coming up this month… that’ll be a big test for this team.

    • Ken Bland

      July 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

      Good job, Manny. Expressed in a positive enough, non hallucagenic way that it sounds like positivity within some degree of reasonable…so my question for you is this…

      If the Phils trailed by 6, you might have similar positive vibes, and might say, they are only 6 back, it’s not like they trail by 11.

      So at 11 out, in your view, how much could they slip back before you’d say it’s over. Like could they dawdle for 2 more weeks, maybe slip to 13, and still have a shot, though obviously less?

      I know myself, I set a goal of 17 of 23 this month, and after the lousy start figured they need 5 of 6 out of the break, so I to this point keep changing instead of saying Uncle, even though I’m thinking Uncle.

      Just curious what your thinking is.

      • Manny

        July 16, 2012 at 11:18 am

        I realize the odds are stacked against us.. but I still can’t figure out how the best team in baseball as of last year can suddenly become mediocre. I think they can do it because this same group has shown it’s capable of putting together some solid winning streaks in the very recent past.

        As for your question, I said to myself that they’ll need to win at least 10 of the 15 games immediately following the All-star break (more because not doing so would prompt RAJ to trade away some pieces that we might end up needing). More generally, I think they have to be within single-digits in the WC games-behind category by the end of this month. If they dawdle for 2 more weeks, they might be done for good… but even then I wouldn’t throw in the towel cause baseball can be a crazy sport sometimes. (See Cardinals being 10 games out in late August last season…)

      • George

        July 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm

        Manny, you state: “but I still can’t figure out how the best team in baseball as of last year can suddenly become mediocre.”

        There are actually quite a number of reasons how. Injuries, bad bullpen, defensive weaknesses, under-performance by players like Victorino, Lee (who finally seems to be getting back to being good), and Bastardo, relying on John Mayberry to duplicate his fluke statistics from last year, having to use Kendrick as more than a spot starter, and the improvements of their opponents.

        I don’t believe that the Phils will continue to be truly mediocre now that some players are returning from the DL. Unfortunately, they’ve dug themselves a hole so deep there’s almost no chance of getting out of it. And they still have that bad bullpen.

      • Chuck A.

        July 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

        Lee “finally seems to be getting back to being good.” ??? Not sure which game you were watching on Friday but I certainly wouldn’t refer to that performance as anything close to resembling “good.”

    • George

      July 16, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Lefty, I don’t see how you can call Lee’s last two starts bad. 8 innings, 2 runs and 6 innings, 2 runs. Maybe you think good is a complete game shutout, but you’d get an argument from practically anybody that that’s too high a standard.

      • Lefty

        July 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm

        George I didn’t say that. Sorry I don’t have time to read the whole thread now to see who did- just saw my name in the recent comments box on the right, I’ll take a look later, got to get back to work, but I’ve always been a fan of Cliff Lee.

      • Chuck A.

        July 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm

        George, Lefty – Maybe it was me that you were referring to. I said that Friday’s game against the Rockies wasn’t a good game by Lee. Yeah, maybe he only gave up 2 runs over 6 innings but he wasn’t sharp at all. And he was gone after 6. 9 hits too.

      • George

        July 16, 2012 at 6:45 pm

        Sorry about that, Lefty. I must have misread who commented or just typed the wrong name somehow.. Usually I’m not so inattentive, but when I make a mistake, it’s always a big one.

        And Chuck A: What was your complaint about the Lee start where he went 8 and gave up 2? Maybe he wasn’t as sharp his last start, but in only being tagged for 2, he must have been doing something right. Part of why he left early was due to Rollins’ error. When a defensive miscue occurs, that’s one more out that a pitcher has to get. That takes more pitches.

        I’ll take Lee’s performance even if he wasn’t sharp. When Blanton or Kendrick aren’t sharp, they’re usually gone after 4 or 5 innings, and the game is already lost.

  8. Skippy

    July 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    This season is an epilogue, a coda to five consecutive division titles. The only noteworthy good thing that will come out of this year is Carlos Ruiz finally making the All-Star Game…and quite honestly, I can live with that.

    Rebuilding time again. We’ve been in the wilderness before; we’ll come out again eventually.

  9. Lefty

    July 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Completely agree the math is impossible. The present winning %’s of the division leaders

    Washington .593
    Cincinnati .563
    San Francisco .551
    NY Yankees .614
    ChiSox .557
    Texas .607

    To get to 90 wins? 51-21 .708 baseball, 100 points better than the best team right now- absolutely impossible.
    To get 85 wins? .639 baseball, same thing, impossible
    To get to .500? . 597 baseball, a daunting task. They’d have to play better baseball than 4 of the present six division leaders just to get to .500.

    Echoing the thoughts of Chuck A. said last week, I’m just gonna relax enjoy the games the rest of the season.

    After that it’s a long cold dark winter.

  10. bacardipr

    July 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Pretty much what George said. Keep in mind this team isnt the same as before. Last year and the previous teams i would’ve they where capable of taking 7 out of 10. Not only because of the team itself but the opponents where weaker as well. Its possible but honestly i think they will fall just short. I hope im wrong but its just the way i see it right now.

  11. Andrew From Waldorf

    July 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I remember betting on the Phillies when they were 9 games behind the Mets and having no fear. Because they were a great team at that time.

    I give them a 3-5% to make it this year. You still have Lee and Doc and Cole and Vance is capable. There will have to be an 18 out f 20 type of streak in there.

    That said it isnt about time that will stop the phillies.
    Its the fact that they arent a very good team outside of the 3 starters I mentioned.
    And sadly 2 of those guys are old and the other is going to either be traded or signed elsewhere.

  12. Andrew From Waldorf

    July 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    And if the 3% did come in to miracle you into the playoffs.

    You have no shot to do anything in the playoffs.
    Any team that hits Rollins 1 Utley 3 and Howard 4 is not a playoff threat.

    Couldnt in 2010 or 2011 or 2012 or 2013 or 2014 or 2014 etc etc etc.

    So for me yes if they made a run here it would be fun and all.
    But I know that with this manager and the way he manages the players and sticks with them They are not a world series winning threat and wont be till the roster and manager change.

    I am with Chuck and Lefty though. Enjoying the season. I love the west coast games. That start at 10 15.

  13. Pingback: [PODCAST] If Cole Hamels Rejects the Phillies Offer He Had to “Think About,” Should the Phillies Trade Him?

  14. davehist

    July 16, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I think it’s about time to concede that this year is not a playoff year for the Phillies. They should just concentrate on winning – as many as they can. If that should get them to the wild card, I’ll be happy to acknowledge my mistake. But they’ve got to have their starters go at least seven every game, Bastardo do a decent job in the eighth (like his seven-pitch inning yesterday), and Pap get ’em through the ninth. And score a few runs so we don’t lose all those 2-1 or 3-2 games.

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