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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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