Let’s not wax poetic over the Phillies’ last stand that begins in Atlanta tonight. The odds are stacked against them as they attempt to erase a 5.5 game deficit with only 11 games remaining. If they are to pull off the miraculous, they will need to win at least three of four games this weekend, but if we’re being honest, they are probably done-zo with anything short of a sweep.
I think I know how this story ends, so I’ve been trying hard this week not to be lured in by the faint signs of life they’ve shown after winning back-to-back series for the first time since late July.
Still, since the Phillies have “a chip and a seat at the table,” as Gabe Kapler said last week, I suppose we can look at what exactly the Phillies are up against in Atlanta because screw it, why not?
I imagine a scenario in which Gabe Kapler and one of the Phillies’ team analysts have a conversation that closely mirrors the one had by Lloyd Christmas and Mary Swanson in Dumb and Dumber.
Gabe Kapler: What are the chances of a team like mine and October baseball…ending up together?
MIT Grad/Baseball Computer Data Guy: Not good.
Gabe Kapler: Not good like one in a hundred?
MIT Grad/Baseball Computer Data Guy: I’d say more like one in a million.
Gabe Kapler: So you’re telling me there’s a chance?!?
Actually, the odds are better. Some math. I’ve frequently cited FanGraphs’ playoff probability odds over the past month, so let’s check in. FanGraphs currently lists the Phillies with a 3.7% chance to win the division. The Braves, meanwhile, have a 96.2% chance.
FanGraphs’ projection model, however, isn’t the definitive predictor of what’s to come, so let’s look at the matchups and trends. If the Phillies are going to do this, they will have to play well on the road, something they have failed to do so far this season. They are 31-42 with a -33 run differential away from Citizens Bank Park and have won four-straight road games only once this season. They won the final two games of a series in Milwaukee on June 16-17 and the first two games of a series in Washington on June 22-23. That’s it. If you’re less ambitious and want to know how many times they have won three out of four road games, they have managed that feat four times.
How have the Phils fared against Atlanta, you ask? Not Great! You may remember this magic moment from Opening Day:
— T.J. Smith (@smittman10) March 30, 2018
That one turned out to not matter. Nope, not at all. Just one of 162.
Anyway, they are 5-7 this season against the Braves and have been outscored 38-57. They have won only one of their first four series thus far with the Braves, with the lone win coming back in May the last time the two teams met.
Past performance and trends can reveal a lot, but those things aren’t what will ultimately decide what happens on the field, so let’s get into tonight’s matchup.
Vince Velasquez gets the ball in a must-win situation which is…concerning. Velasquez, after enjoying a stellar June and July in which he was one of the National League’s most effective starters, has been terrible lately. He’s 1-3 with a 7.52 ERA since early August and has consistently failed to get deep into games. Perhaps of more concern is his performance against the Braves this season. He’s lasted a combined 17 innings over four starts, allowing 29 hits, 8 walks, and 14 earned runs. Also not great.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, and if I haven’t already killed whatever delusional optimism you possessed at the beginning of this thing, the Phillies rocked Braves starter Kevin Gausman for 12 hits and five runs over five innings when he was with Baltimore back on July 12.
Do I believe they can make things weird this weekend? I really don’t, but…I’m telling you there’s a chance. I guess.