Watching the Philadelphia Phillies win three consecutive series to pull within striking distance of first place in the National League East at the All-Star Break might have given fans a glimmer of hope regarding their chances to crack the postseason for the first time since 2011. This could cause the sports betting revenue in Pennsylvania to go up for the following months. April and May brought in the lowest handles since the beginning of the year, but if the Phillies continue to do well, we can expect the monthly numbers to go up.
If you’re going strictly off Baseball Reference’s playoff odds simulator, however, that hope might be more than just a glimmer.
The baseball stats and history website currently has the Phillies — not the first-place New York Mets or the defending division champion Atlanta Braves — as the team with the highest odds to win the NL East, despite their 3 1/2 game deficit. It’s based on 1,000 simulations of the rest of the season, using the team’s last 100 games and an assumption of regression to the mean.
The margin isn’t particularly slim, either. Baseball Reference currently gives the Phillies a 34.1% chance to win the division, Atlanta 24.9% and New York 24.0%. It also has the Phillies’ best-case win total at 89 and their worst case at 75 — while the two other division rivals are each at 88 and 74, respectively. (Estimations are within a 90% confidence interval.)
The calculation isn’t completely out of left field, so to speak. Much has been made of the Phillies’ second-half schedule, which ranks as the easiest in baseball with a .461 opponents’ winning percentage. The gap between the Phillies’ schedule and the next easiest (the Cubs’, at .479) is the same as the gap between the second- and 13th-easiest remaining schedules in MLB. The Braves’ second-half opponents have a combined winning percentage of .501, and the Mets’ opponents are at .511 — the fifth-toughest schedule in baseball from here on out.
But what does all this mean if the Phillies don’t take advantage of their lackluster second-half opponents? Not much, and there’s certainly a basis for skepticism.
The club posted a measly 23-20 record against sub-.500 teams in the first half. Using the current standings, should they continue at that .535 rate against sub-.500 teams and their current .467 clip against teams at or above .500, they’ll finish with 82 wins — likely leaving them on the outside looking in. (Comparatively, if the Mets continue at their current rates against .500+ and sub-.500 teams, they would finish 87-75.) However, if the Phillies can avoid playing down to their opponents in the second half, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up some ground.
Another reason for optimism for Phillies fans, though not included in Baseball Reference’s model, is the number of games they’ll play at Citizens Bank Park the rest of the season. The Phillies will play 41 of their 74 remaining contests at home; that 55% clip tops the Mets (52%), Braves (48%) and Nationals (48%), theoretically giving the Phillies a home-field advantage in the second half. Of course, these differences aren’t massive, but the Phillies’ winning percentage at home is a full 183 points better than their mark on the road, and in a division that’s shaping up to go down to the wire, a few games played within a team’s own friendly confines can make a world of difference.
Based on the current standings, it appears as though the Phillies’ most realistic path to the postseason is via an NL East crown, and the Baseball Reference simulation bears that out. It gives the Phillies just a 1.2% chance to claim one of the two Wild Card spots, and every NL East team is below 2% — the only division in baseball to which that applies.
This doesn’t come as a surprise, given the loaded nature of the NL West, where the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres are all likely to claim a spot in the postseason, and given the collective underperformance of the NL East. Even if one of those three teams were to crawl to 90 wins, two NL East clubs would have to put together torrid second halves for one to claim a Wild Card. Stranger things have happened, but not many.
There’s one giant elephant lurking in the room — one Baseball Reference doesn’t account for — and that is the notorious second-half collapse that has plagued the Phillies in recent years. They sat in first place on Aug. 8, 2018, then finished the year 16-33 to miss the playoffs. They went 12-16 in September 2019. They needed to win two of their final eight games under Joe Girardi to crack the expanded 2020 playoff field. They won one.
If anything close to that happens for the fourth consecutive year, the Phillies can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye. But as it stands now, they have a chance — a very real one — to break MLB’s second-longest active playoff drought.
And that’s far from conjecture.
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