Moments of optimism may be few and far between for the Phils for the remainder of the season. So sitting on a 3-game win streak, Roy Halladay off the DL against a minor league call-up, it feels like we should highlight this moment in case it’s our last chance. Speculation has been rampant about how many wins the Phillies could need to secure the 2nd wild-card position in the National League. When you stumble upon one of those numbers, be it 88, or 86, or 90–the math gets very bleak for the Phils. To get to 86 wins the Phillies would have to go 46-25 the rest of the way, which is .647 baseball for a team that has played at a .440 clip to this point. That sounds daunting, but there’s also the logjam of teams ahead of the Phils. They don’t need one team to collapse like Atlanta did last year. They need to pass most of the National League.
The winning part of the equation is a given, the Phils pretty much have to win 2 of every 3, what we don’t know is how the rest of the National League is going to hold up down the stretch. Some surprising teams, some hot starts, have in my opinion artificially raised the profile of the National League. There are still plenty of bad teams in the NL, several of which reside above the Phillies in the standings. If these teams regress back to a more expected level of play, the task of making a wild-card run becomes a bit less daunting. My point is, getting to 86 or 88 wins is going to be the hard part. Let’s take a look at the teams residing above the Phillies (40-51) in the standings….
Milwaukee: 42-47 (3 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 76. The Brewers are another playoff team from ’11 that’s taken a plunge. The circumstances of being the Brewers, and not a big-market team makes a correction for Milwaukee unlikely. If they trade away Greinke before the deadline, they’ll be lucky to get to 76 wins.
Miami: 43-46 (4 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 78. The Marlins were supposed to contend this year with their flashy free agent signings, but a dreadful June has put them in a Phillies-like hole. We still don’t know how invested the Marlins really are. There was word yesterday that the Marlins could end up selling off some big pieces (Josh Johnson, etc.) if things don’t turn around by the deadline. No indication this is an 88-90 win team.
Arizona: 43-46 (4 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 78. Arizona is another team strapped by their small market status. Last year’s good vibes have exploded like Ian Kennedy’s ERA. Teams like Arizona and Milwaukee have trouble correcting bad starts, and they’re forced to keep a constant eye toward rebuilding. There’s talk the D-Backs could even move Justin Upton. They don’t look like serious contenders this year.
New York Mets: 46-43 (7 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 84. The Mets were picked almost unanimously to finish last in the NL East. They still have the same collection of talent. They rode some “us against them,” David Wright’s monster year, and R.A. Dickey to a good 1st half. But, they haven’t won since the All-Star Break and there’s no real reason to think the Mets can keep their heads above water.
St Louis: 47-43 (7.5 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 85. The Cardinals haven’t really missed Albert Pujols. Carlos Beltran has stepped in with run production, and the Cardinals remain one of the better offensive teams in the league. But without Chris Carpenter and without Adam Wainwright pitching like an ace, the Cardinals have had to rely on Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse to lead the pitching staff. The competitive NL Central and their starting pitching will make it hard for the Cardinals to finish 2012 with another big run.
Los Angeles: 48-43 (8 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 85. The Dodgers have been mediocre since their torrid start. They’ve suffered several key injuries, but you also have to wonder if their early record was a bit inflated. As great as Matt Kemp is, he’s not going to have many months like he did in April. The Dodgers are on the rise, and have an infusion of cash, but will they make a serious push this year? LA’s fate could rest on who they can add at the deadline. The lineup has some major holes.
Pittsburgh: 2nd Wild-Card Position, 49-40 (10 Games Ahead of PHI). Current Win Pace: 89 Wins. So, here we have a 2nd wild-card team on pace for 89 wins, but are the Pirates really going to get to 89 wins? Aside from McCutchen, they struggle offensively. Their rotation has been pitching well above expectations. The Pirates have held on longer than they did last year, but let’s remember they closed out 2011 nineteen games under .500 in August and September. It will be difficult for Pittsburgh to maintain their current pace.
Those are the teams the Phillies would have to pass as of this morning to make the playoffs. There’s very little track record of winning there. There aren’t many teams positioned to add much help before the trade deadline. You can easily make an argument that the Phillies would need a miracle to catch the red-hot Braves, or the Nationals, or whichever team emerges from the scrum to win the NL Central, but those are teams they do not have to catch. Their opponents are mostly the rag-tag group that makes up the middle class of the NL. I can’t picture the Phillies winning 90 games, and even 86 seems like a long, long shot given their form, but if they do happen to make a run–the 2nd wild-card spot could be there for the taking.