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Hopelessness and You

The Phillies are on a four-game winning streak coming off of a three-game series sweep of the Washington Nationals at home, just their second sweep of the season. They may be 16.5 games out of first place in the NL East, but they are 9.5 games back of the second Wild Card. With memories of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, who memorably went on a late-season rampage into and through the post-season, Phillies fans are finding a small glimmer of hope in what has long been considered a failure of a season.

If you will, allow me to be a wet blanket. Baseball Prospectus still has the Phillies’ playoff odds at zero percent and they haven’t had a non-zero chance since July 26. After the division-leading Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants, there are four teams with significant playoff chances eyeing either of the two Wild Card slots beyond their division crown: the Atlanta Braves (87 percent), St. Louis Cardinals (63 percent), Los Angeles Dodgers (46 percent), and the Pittsburgh Pirates (25 percent). Two other teams have a small but non-zero shot: the Arizona Diamondbacks (3 percent) and the Milwaukee Brewers (0.1 percent).

Here’s a look at the standings:

Team W L PCT WCGB WCE # G Left
ATL 73 55 .570 34
STL 70 57 .551 35
LAD 69 59 .539 1.5 34 34
PIT 68 59 .535 2.0 34 35
ARI 64 64 .500 6.5 29 34
PHI 61 67 .477 9.5 26 34
MIL 59 67 .468 10.5 26 36
NYM 59 69 .461 11.5 24 34
SDP 59 70 .457 12.0 23 33
MIA 58 71 .450 13.0 22 33

The Phillies would have to topple all but one of those teams just for a shot at a one-game Wild Card playoff. They are 61-67 now, and let’s assume that 89 wins gets you in the second spot since the Cardinals’ .551 winning percentage yields 89 wins over 162 games. The Phillies would need to win 28 of their remaining 34 games, an .824 winning percentage. Even the red-hot 2011 Cardinals, to which many point as evidence of hope for the Phillies, went 18-8 in September, a meager .692 winning percentage. In 2007, the Phillies impossibly went 13-4 to close the season and steal the division crown from the New York Mets, yielding a .765 winning percentage. Just to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Phillies would have to go on a historically-great month-long run.

But wait, that’s not all. All but one of the teams ahead of the Phillies would have to falter, finishing at 88 wins or below. Let’s assume the 73-55 Braves get the first spot. That means that the Cardinals would have to win no more than 18 of their remaining 35 games, the Dodgers 19 of 34, the Pirates 20 of 35, and the Diamondbacks 24 of 34. Additionally, none of the teams behind the Phillies could go on a historically-great run either, with the Brewers and Mets maxing out at 29 remaining wins. So you’re betting on the Phillies winning at least 82 percent of their games and the Cardinals less than 52 percent, Dodgers 56 percent, Pirates 58 percent, and the Diamondbacks 71 percent. You’d have a better time trying to make four of a kind on the river in Texas Hold’em.

It’s great that the Phillies have found their way up to third place in the division while rattling off three separate winning streaks of at least three games since August 12 (going 10-5 in the process), but it is too little, too late. They fell too far behind early, particularly with a 9-19 June that caused them to sell on Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Joe Blanton. Besides, even if the Phillies were to somehow win a Wild Card spot, they would simply be put into a one-game playoff that is essentially a coin flip. And then if the Phillies won that, they would have to beat a team like the Reds, Giants, Dodgers, or Nationals, a tall task despite the recently-completed three-game sweep of the Nationals. It will be a while until the Phillies face mathematical elimination, but they are for all intents and purposes practically eliminated.