It’s the weekend of July 4th and the Philadelphia Phillies are fast approaching halfway point in their season.
They are 41-38, seven and a half games behind first place in the NL East but only a one and a half back in the wild card race. The postseason is at hand for this baseball team.
The Phillies have been in this position before.
On July 2, 2018, they were 45-37 and one game ahead of the Dodgers for the second wild card spot.
On July 2, 2019, they were 45-50 and a half game ahead of the Cubs for the first wild card spot.
On July 2, 2020, the season had not yet started. But on Sept. 2, 2020, the Phillies were 17-15 and fifth in the National League, easily on pace to reach the 16-team extended playoffs this year.
They were still below 0.500 on July 2, 2021. But a month later, they capped an eight-game winning streak with a win over the New York Mets and took a two-game lead with just 60 games left in the NL East.
In each of those seasons, Philadelphia collapsed sometime in the second half. This year, they have a chance to put the past behind them and earn the first wildcard spot in franchise history.
What the Phillies have to do to be a wildcard team
Here are some numbers to remember.
Eight teams are sure to be buyers by the close: the Dodgers, Mets, Brewers, Padres, Braves, Cardinals, Giants and Phillies.
Three of these teams will win their division. The Dodgers, Brewers and Mets seem to be the favorites at the moment. The other five teams are fighting for three wild card spots. That means the Phillies — to make it through the postseason — must finish with a better record than two of the eight competing teams.
Over the past ten full seasons, the team that would have claimed the third wildcard spot has averaged 85.3 wins. So far in 2022, the Phillies have played with 84 wins. That sounds promising.
This year, however, 85 probably won’t be enough. Teams like the Braves, Cardinals, Giants, and Padres have very talented rosters, and all will be looking for upgrades at the close. It’s hard to imagine that three of these teams can’t get more than 85 wins.
Heading into today, FanGraphs predicts the Giants will edge out the Phillies and Cardinals for the third wild card spot with 87 wins. Baseball Reference also predicted the Giants would take that final postseason spot, but with 89 wins.
To finish with 87 wins, the Phillies must win 46 of their remaining 83 games. That’s a win rate of 0.554, or a pace of 90 wins. To finish with 89 wins, Philadelphia would have to play with 94 wins for the rest of the year.
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To earn a wild card berth, the Phillies must play baseball better than ever. Thankfully, this team has a few things that they haven’t had in previous seasons.
What the Phillies have for them
The Phillies teams that collapsed each of the last four seasons weren’t as talented as the team is now. While the Phillies were in a playoff position on July 2 in both 2018 and 2019, they only had a positive six-run difference in both years at that point.
As of July 2, the 2022 Phillies have a +41 running differential. This means that Philadelphia played at the level of an 89-win team according to their Pythagorean win-loss record. By Pythagorean win rate, the Phillies are currently the sixth best team in the NL, beating the Giants and Brewers.
Additionally, Philadelphia had one of the toughest schedules in baseball during the first three months of the season. Through the strength of ESPN’s schedule metrics, no NL team has yet faced stiffer competition. In the future, the schedule will be much easier.
Though the Phillies are yet to find themselves in a wild card spot, their run differential suggests they’ve played like a wild card-worthy team and will face an easier list of opponents in the coming months. Those are both very good reasons to be optimistic about Philadelphia’s postseason prospects this year.
What do the Phillies have against them?
Bryce Harper will miss a significant portion of the season, which will severely hurt Philadelphia’s playoff chances. Harper is the top hitter on the team and his absence will be felt. There are no two ways.
The Phillies have several players who can step up to fill the Harper-sized hole in the lineup. Nick Castellanos, JT Realmuto and Alec Bohm have all slumped all year and if the three can strike again it will help a lot to make up for the missing MVP. Still, staying afloat without Harper will be a daunting task for Philadelphia.
The other daunting obstacle in this team’s path is the month of September, a time when they have struggled mightily in recent years.
As of 2018, the Phillies have had a .516 win ratio for the first three months of the season, and they were even better over the summer. Philadelphia goes back to 2018 and has a win ratio of .544 in July and a win ratio of .523 in August.
In September and October, however, it’s a completely different story. For the past four seasons, the Phillies have played September/October 47-69. Over a full season, that would be a pace of 66 wins.
If Philadelphia gets a wild card berth this year, they can’t collapse at the end of the season. The Phillies need to prove they can win in September.
In their favor, Harper will hopefully be back by then (as will Jean Segura), leaving Philadelphia playing at full strength. Still, the final weeks of the season will be a real test of this team’s capabilities.
If the Phillies can survive the next two months without their best player and finally build a track record in September, they’re in very good shape. They’ve played good baseball so far, and the schedule for the rest of the season is in their favor.
It won’t be easy, but a wildcard spot is definitely doable for this team.
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