Phils Need Epic Second Half to Make Playoffs

After the All-Star festivities end tonight, Cliff Lee, Domonic Brown and the rest of the Phils have plenty of work to do. (AP Photo)

After the All-Star festivities end tonight, Cliff Lee, Domonic Brown and the rest of the Phils have plenty of work to do.  (AP Photo)

As I opined last week, gauging where you stand on the Phillies can hinge on what day you check in on this ambivalent bunch.  Nowhere is it more visible than within the Philadelphia media, where readers are bombarded with recurring “buy” and “sell” advocacy within the same publication, sometimes on the very same day.

For Phillies fans, it really is a recipe for whiplash.

Today is one of the good days.  Cliff Lee and Domonic Brown will represent the city in tonight’s All-Star Game at CitiField.  The Phils are riding high, winners of nine of 13 and four straight series, three of which came against teams in contention.  They are at the .500 mark for the first time since June 7 – six-and-a-half games behind Atlanta in the NL East and five-and-a-half behind Cincinnati for the second wild card spot.

There is nothing wrong with fans craving the excitement of a playoff run.  That remains true even if they don’t truly believe this team has the talent to make one (count me in with that cautiously hopeful bunch).  But while this group’s recent penchant for second half improvement has me conceding that a playoff spot is a remote possibility, it still seems pretty implausible when you crunch the numbers.

On Sunday, I tweeted out the breakdown of pre and post All-Star Break win percentage for the Phillies since 2005.  Their second half dominance has been impressive in both magnitude and consistency:

2012: first half 37-50 (.425), second half 44-31 (.586)                                                                2011: first half 57-34 (.626), second half 45-26 (.634)                                                                2010: first half 47-40 (.540), second half 50-25 (.667)                                                                2009: first half 48-38 (.558), second half 45-31 (.592)                                                                2008: first half 52-44 (.542), second half 40-26 (.606)                                                                2007: first half 44-44 (.500), second half 45-29 (.608)                                                                2006: first half 40-47 (.460), second half 45-30 (.600)                                                                2005: first half 45-44 (.506), second half 43-30 (.589)

Let’s forget about the crippling injuries to Ryan Howard and Ben Revere for a second and pretend that the Phillies will extend this latest stretch into a second half push… not a huge reach considering the numbers above.  Even with that assumption, there are still several factors working against them that have me (again) cautioning the optimists out there.

At 48-48, the Phillies have already played 96 games this season.  Outside of 2008, when they had also played 96 by the break, the Phils highest game total at this point was 91 in 2011.  Quite simply, fewer games mean fewer opportunities to put that second half surge to use.

Over the eight-year span from 2005-12, the Phillies were better in the second half by an average win percentage of .090.  Put that number of .590 (current win percentage plus .090) into play for the remaining 66 games, and it leaves the Phillies at 87 wins in 2013 (rounding up).  With the current playoff format, 87 wins would have earned them an NL playoff berth exactly once in the past 10 years (2006).  Not good.

However, if they’re able to miraculously replicate the .667 win percentage of 2010, that would put them at 92 wins (rounding down), a number that would’ve secure a playoff spot in each of the last 10 years.  Good news to be sure, but easier said than done.

First, I don’t think anyone would argue that this team is less talented than their predecessors.  In addition, while the Phillies sit at 48-48, they have a run differential of minus-45, suggesting that they’ve had quite a bit of good fortune in the first half.  There are only seven teams in baseball that have been more drastically outscored.  The Mariners hold the best record of that bunch at 43-52.  To put it further into perspective, the Mets have a superior run differential of minus-27.  Even if the Phils improve from here, they’re going to need luck to stay on their side.

Making matters worse, ESPN’s Buster Olney broke down the strength of schedule for baseball’s 19 “contenders” as of Sunday morning.  The Phils have the ninth toughest schedule of that bunch.  The easiest?  The Braves, who, at that point, played only 19 of their 67 remaining games against teams with a record .500 or better.  Atlanta also doesn’t have to travel west of the Central Time Zone for the rest of the season.  For what it’s worth, every team the Phillies are chasing for the NL wild cards has an easier schedule than they do according to Olney.

In short, it’s going to take a colossal second half effort from the Phillies to make the playoffs, and when you consider the holes on this team, perhaps one even more heroic than any we’ve had the pleasure of watching over the last eight years.  The good news is that the number of games the Braves play against .500-or-better competition jumped from 19 to 32 on Sunday when the Phils took care of the White Sox in extra innings to get to 48-48.

Those 13 remaining match-ups against Atlanta are the proverbial ace in the hole for the Phillies.  In 2007, the Phils played .600+ ball in the second half, but more importantly, went 7-0 against the Mets.  The numbers say this core group has to try to mirror that performance over their remaining 66 games if they want one more shot at a title.  Anything less probably won’t be enough.



  1. Floyd

    July 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Every year is different. Schedule is somewhat beneficial to the Phils at the end. After St Louis and Detroit series, the Phils have 57 games remaining. 34 are home.
    Entire NL West at Home …16 games
    Home and Home vs Cubs … 6 games
    Mets and Marlins … 13 games
    Washington … 9 games
    Atlanta … 13 games

    I think its doable. Especially if they can beat the Braves and Nats

    • Ken Bland

      July 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      “I think its doable.”

      Good thing I read your comment straight after reading the headline of the article.

      Epic (in the headline) must be the first cousin of the word great. They both fall into the Jepordy category of words used way too easily for 600.

      The Phillies don’t need an epic comeback. Well, not now. Epic is the ’51 Giants, ’14 Braves, ’64 Cards, ’78 Yanks, ’07 Phillies. We’re talking double figure leads into July and August, and 6 and 7 game leads with less than 20 (10 and 17 to play).

      Is winning series on a very consistent basis enough? Certainly enough to make it interesting.
      That’s a good start to long terming 1 game at a time. The same way run differential don’t mean sqat considering the Phils lost about a half dozen games off at least a couple Halladay and Hamels starts way back when that puts their run dif at about even if you play selective data, which is as meaningful as including games from so far bac as April and May. Run dif might be semi useful as a short term indicator.

      Charlie said a month ago (or so) that he felt if they could get to 50 wins by the break, they would be “okay.” They got close. My only attitude of conviction is was close (50n V 48) good enough

      • Alex Lee

        July 16, 2013 at 4:15 pm

        Run differential is one of the best long-term indicators, actually.

      • Alex Lee

        July 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm

        And the headline reads the Phils need an epic second half, not an epic comeback. Two very different things.

      • Ken Bland

        July 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm

        totally true on the second point about the epic 2nd half.

        Don’t agree at all on the run dif thought.

      • Alex Lee

        July 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm

        All good, in actuality I think I just wanted to get ‘epic’ into a headline. Ha.

        As far as run differential, I’ve read plenty of stuff that helps to establish it as one of the better performance indicators out there. I don’t have them at my fingertips, but it’s usually stuff like this:
        As you can see, the Phils (in red) are a pretty big outlier.

      • hk

        July 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm


        I have seen some make the argument that run differential over a team’s first 96 games is a good predictor of run differential or winning percentage over the team’s final 66 games, but I have not seen any statistical proof. Do you have any?

      • Alex Lee

        July 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

        There is certainly not definitive “proof”, just evidence that supports it as an effective predictor of future performance… just like there is evidence that says it isn’t the best predictor. I believe the former outweighs the latter, thus why I cited it here. I’m a Baseball Prospectus guy, so if you’re actually looking for more info, I’d recommend starting there.

        Either way, to each his own.

      • hk

        July 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm


        I don’t think I made myself clear. I have seen a full season’s run differential proven to be a better descriptor of what happened during the past completed season than a team’s actual won-loss record during that season. However, I have not seen (on BP or otherwise) run differential used as an in-season tool to predict the remainder of the season’s run differential or won-loss record.

      • Alex Lee

        July 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm

        Gotcha. I guess my response would be that I don’t see the difference. Whether the snapshot is a full year or 60% of a year (like in this case), to me the theory still applies the same way. Why wouldn’t it? For example:

        In a vacuum, if a team goes .500 (81-81) in a full season with a run differential of say, -70, it would lead me to believe they’re due to regress to a winning percentage of less than .500 the next year. Just like the Phillies, at 48-48 with a differential of -45, should regress over their last 66 games (according to the theory, of course). What’s the difference?

        And for the record, I don’t necessarily think the Phils will be below .500 in the second half. We’ve already establish they’ve shown a proclivity for improved play in July/Aug/Sept.

      • devin

        July 16, 2013 at 9:56 pm

        Run differential is directly correlated to wins, but it’s not predictive. A teams run differential is not steady over the course of the season and it’s flat out stupid to expect it to be. The only thing worse than not using statistics is using them poorly.

      • Alex Lee

        July 17, 2013 at 12:52 am

        I totally disagree with you. As you said, run differential typically correlates to wins. However, this season the Phillies differential clearly does not have a strong correlation to wins… rather it is an outlier (as shown here: If you agree there is normally a correlation, as you have, it’s safe to say that the Phils are lucky to be 48-48… therefore making it logical to predict their record will worsen.

        It’s the same idea as BABIP, which is frequently used to gauge how sustainable a pitcher’s ERA is. BABIP is not “steady” over the course of the season either… it doesn’t mean it can’t be used as a predictor.

      • Alex Lee

        July 17, 2013 at 1:18 am

        Battling a bit of insomnia here, so I decided to poke around Bill James’ Pythagorean expectation (as outlined here:
        As you can see in their Adjusted Standings Report (, BP calculates that the Phillies record should be anywhere from 43-53 to 43.6-52.4, depending on which ‘order’ you subscribe to… ALL of which utilize run differential in some form. I pulled this gem right from the text:
        “Second- and third-order winning percentage has been shown to predict future actual team winning percentage better than both actual winning percentage and first-order winning percentage.”

        End of story.

      • George

        July 17, 2013 at 10:06 am

        I’m not going to get into a debate about the predictability of wins/losses with run differential.

        But I will say that I do not expect that differential to be as bad in the second half (a misnomer, considering the Phils have played 96 games already). It’s really a different team now than it was in April and May. The offense has picked up the pace lately and the starting rotation is better now that Halladay is not being relied upon and Hamels is doing more. I’d point out that some of that differential has been due to blowout games; the Phils rarely win by a wide margin, but have been pounded a number of times when the BP coughed up runs after the starters had kept things close.

        The big problem I see with this diagnosis is that Revere is now out, which will hurt the scoring side, and that horrid BP is mostly still in place. If the relief corps can’t be improved, then I don’t think the team has a chance. Even with a better offense helping, that run differential will still be too large.

      • Alex Lee

        July 17, 2013 at 10:26 am

        I agree that the differential should improve. The Phils are always better later in the year and this team seems to be trending in that direction as well. I just included the run differential as one of a number factors working against them. Hopefully I’m wrong.

      • Mark

        July 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm

        As others have already mentioned, run differential is descriptive and not predictive.

    • Ken Bland

      July 17, 2013 at 11:16 am

      On the run diff deal, they’d get over it (I guess), but I cannot believe that the Pirates, who trail the Cards by a million runs in that department and are like a game behind could be in for more misery than last year’s ker plunk, and maybe the year before, let alone the last 20 could be in for MO PAIN. But the run diff sho nuff suggests thay are floating on thin air. I figure it’s up to Huntington to wisely manage the budget and do what everyone else does…seek pitching, and of course in their case, hitting. I wouldn’t predict they’ll stand up, but that pen was wonderful in H1, and if they get a couple pieces, maybe they avoid what would send ’em over to football el rapido.

      Re the Phils, I’m REAL interested to see the rotation setup, I assume announced purty soon for the weekend and beyond. I assume they wanted to wiat and see how much Cliff worked before giving him a possible extra day. It’s a little tricky in that that they might wanna line em up thinking R-L against the Cards and Tigers. I’m guessing Hamels goes Friday night.

  2. Dr. Dave

    July 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Buy or sell? That is the question!

    The upcoming schedule following the All-Star break is as follows: 9 on the road. 3 @ the Mets, 3 @ the Cardinals, and 3 @ the Tigers. If they go 6-3 they should buy. Anything less = sell.

    The last game with the Tigers is on July 28th. Ruben will have 3 days to get something done.

    Analysis: If you lose two or three to the Mets; yikes! Going 3-3 vs the Cards and Tigers would be OK. But if they get drubbed by 2 of the best teams in baseball, they are only fooling themselves if they don’t sell.

    • hk

      July 16, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Dr. Dave,

      I disagree with basing the buy, hold or sell decision solely upon what the Phils do. What the Braves do during that period – and to a lesser extent what Cincy and Washington do – has to factor into the equation. If the Phils go 5-4 while the Braves go 3-7 in their 10 games at the White Sox, at the Mets and vs. the Cardinals, the Phils would only be 4 games out and should consider being buyers or holders. On the other hand, if the Phils go 6-3, but the Braves go 9-1, the Phils will be 9 games out with 57 to go and should sell.

      • Mark

        July 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        I’ve read so many posts/articles on whether or not the Phillies should be buyer or sellers at the trade deadline. I’ve yet to hear what the Phillies are supposed to give up if they are buyers. Does anyone really think the Phillies should give up any of their top prospects for such a small chance at the playoffs?

  3. Brooks

    July 16, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    The question being what would it take for the Phils to do ‘colossal?’ Does anyone on this roster right now seem to have the ability to carry the team? Moreover, this cannot be expected of just one player, it has to be the team effort – speaking of 2007, not only was Jimmy the catalyst but Howard was there knocking him in consistantly along with Chase. As a matter of fact, 5 players had 89 RBI or more that year – 5! Rowand, Burrell, Rollins, Utley and Howard. I believe the offense carried the Phils that year – 213 homeruns, a .274 team batting average and 2 speedsters who were a combined 78 stolen bases in 88 attempts – none of which is going to happen this year.

    The team did win 2 of 3 from a very weak White Sox team, yeay but, boy did they struggle.
    Getting someone DECENT and with a future (not over 31 please!) to replace Revere is going to cost the Phils. Cost them what? What are the Phils willing to trade at this point? Honestly, I would only feel comfortable giving up Papelbon (or as some of my good friends call him Papelbum). No more prospects, giving up Chooch is like giving up the season – there just is nobody to replace him. Young? Perhaps – if a gamble on Asche or platooning Asche, Galvis and Frandsen might work.. other than that.. Too shaky

    Tough decisions. Glad its not me making them now.

  4. DavidE

    July 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Last season, they played 13 games over .500 after the All-Star break. It’s not likely but it’s doable. Over a short term, a team can look good. This was with Mayberry in centerfield, Kratz at catcher and Frandsen at 3rd base.

  5. Lefty

    July 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    A good number of the Braves games vs under .500 teams are with the Fish who gave them a very tough time last weekend, ( as they do the Phillies too) I think it’s more about how teams match up vs different opponents than what those teams records are- if that makes any sense.

    Anyway, I’m not going to sit down and do a comprehensive match up for every game/series left for all the contenders this season, nor do I suggest you do it.

    It’s really just easier to just watch the games and hope things go well 🙂

    BTW – Speaking of schedules, who is the numb nut that devised a four day All Star break followed by a three game series, followed by ANOTHER day off on Monday??? And then just to make it easier on the club, they have only 2 off days during the entire month of August- unbelievable.

    • Lefty

      July 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

      Should have read before submitting- The Marlins and Braves split the last 6 games they played in the last week or so. No easy wins to be found on anyone’s upcoming schedule.

  6. G7

    July 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Point is..they are still in it..goal of every season should be to make playoffs, then win WS..go for it.

  7. Ken Bland

    July 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Back to baseball tonight, with, in a way, an inverse of the end of the first half. Not that this has even a sprinkling to do with determining factors toward W’s and L’s, but the Phils wrapped H1 with series against the Braves, Nats and White Sox. Two supposedly tougher challenges up front, this time, the alleged easier mission precedes the tougher degrees of difficulty in trips too The Apple, The Loo, and Motown.

    Along the lines of those similarities, it seems reasonable to compare the Mets and White Sox series. At home, you just hoped the Phils wouldn’t blow the chance against Chcago. That was the theme in H1, get close, but not sustain (as in .500). This time, it’s a little more even with the Mets throwing Hafner, Wheeler and Harvey. One and three have pitched real well, Wheeler is probably a matter of time before untracking, but he’s not there. It won’t surprise if Phillie fans line up asking if they can have Marlon Byrd for the rest of the year by weekend’s end.

    This is a good test for the Phils to show they mean business before the Cards and Tigers. The Phils of the first half, you could safely predict they would lose 2 of these 3 and not definitely, but probably be right. Plain and simple, it HAS to be different this time. By the end of Sunday, the fair expectation is that the team that won 2 or 3 did so because their starters carried them longer in the games they won. Lotta ifs between the starters and the Papelbon/Parnell points of the game. And as if it’s not complicated enough, I believe Papelbon is 5-5 in his last 10 1 run save chances. But that’s from a long time ago as Opening Day 2 is hours away.

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