Just a week remains until the end of the 2020 season, and the Philadelphia Phillies still control their playoff destiny.
At 27-26, they are currently seeded seventh in the National League, in one of two wild card spots to sneak into the playoffs. They own a half-game lead on the eighth-place Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants, who also have .500 records but are on the outside looking in due to tiebreakers.
They also sit just a game behind the Miami Marlins for the second playoff spot in the NL East. The Marlins own a better head-to-head record against the Phillies, which serves as the tiebreaker in the case of both teams finishing with the same record.
The Phillies have seven games remaining — four this week against the Washington Nationals, and the following three against the Tampa Bay Rays — and have Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler set to pitch in two games apiece.
In 2020 the Phillies have fared well against the Nationals, going undefeated against them in the first six matchups between the two teams. While the Nationals have played poorly all season long and are all but eliminated from playoff contention, they are certainly a team that would love to play spoiler against the division rival that has dominated them thus far this season.
The Rays currently have the second-best record in baseball, but might still be fighting for the top seed in the American League next weekend. They will certainly be a tough matchup for this Phillies team.
So what needs to happen for the Phillies to hold onto a playoff spot and make their first postseason since 2011?
Much of this, of course, will depend on the other teams still in the playoff picture. It is important to note that as of now, the Phillies have a better divisional record than any other teams vying for one of the last playoff spots. This serves as the tiebreaker, which the Phillies will clinch over three of the four potential wild card teams if they win three of four against the Nationals.
The Phillies can finish second in the NL East if they catch two games on the Marlins, who play two very good teams in the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees in this final week. So, for example, if the Phillies go 4-3, they would finish ahead of a Marlins team that finishes 2-5 or worse in the final seven games.
If the Marlins finish ahead of the Phillies, it would all come down to the wild card spots. There are four teams — the Reds, Giants, Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals — who could contend with the Phillies for the two wild-card spots. The Cardinals currently are not in the picture as they have the second spot in the NL Central, but this could change in the coming week with the Reds and Brewers looming.
In the next week, the Giants play four games apiece against the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres, who are currently the second best team in the National League. They have to finish two-and-a-half games better than the Phillies during this stretch.
The Reds, who face the Brewers for three games before playing a very good Minnesota Twins team in the final weekend, must finish one-and-a-half games better than the Phillies. Now, this changes if they sweep the division-rival Brewers and the Phillies get swept by the Nationals because the Reds would then own the division record tiebreaker over the Phillies.
After playing three against the Reds, the Brewers face the Cardinals for a five-game series. Like the Reds, the Brewers have to finish one-and-a-half games better than the Phillies to grab a playoff spot over them.
The good news for the Phillies is that this is essentially four teams vying for two playoff spots. There is also a benefit to the Reds and Cardinals each playing against the Brewers down the stretch, This ensures that not all three teams can go on a run, which would be a nightmare scenario for the Phillies’ playoff hopes.
While they have a magic number of 8, the Phillies can guarantee a spot in the postseason by going 6-1 or better down the stretch. This is due to tiebreakers and the scheduling, which both play in the Phillies favor.
No matter what, the Phillies will have to play well down the stretch to make the postseason. Winning this series against the Nationals would be a good start.
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