The Phillies play their first of 26 consecutive games against division opponents tonight when they open a three-game set with the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park.
After losing two out of three earlier this week to the Diamondbacks, the Phillies fell out of first-place for the first time since April 23, this coming while the Braves have rattled off seven wins in a row. It’s understandable if you don’t feel great about the Phillies’ direction right now–there are plenty of reasons for concern, but should we really feel angst over one series at this point in the season?
It’s only mid-June, and it’s only three games—91 games remain on the schedule after this series concludes—but with the two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions, this feels like one the Phillies need to have. Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, like I’m playing up narratives based on momentum and making statements, but if you believe FanGraphs’ postseason projection model, and others like it, this is an important series for reasons that have nothing to do with those things.
According to that model, Atlanta currently has an 80.2% chance to reach the postseason and a 61.9% chance to win the National League East. The Phillies, despite trailing the Braves by only 1.5 games entering tonight, comparatively have only a 40.5% chance to reach the postseason and a 17.2% chance to win the NL East. That means the Braves are almost twice as likely to make the postseason and more than three times likely to win the division than the Phillies based on the FanGraphs model. For those wondering, here’s how that model works:
To generate the playoff odds, we take the current standings, the remaining schedule, the team’s projected performance, and we simulate the remaining season 10,000 times. All the outcomes are averaged to find the probably of winning the division or wild card along with winning the World Series and various playoff rounds. If a team has a 90% chance to make the playoffs, that means that 9,000 of out of the 10,000 simulated seasons end in the team making the playoffs.
FiveThirtyEight’s model also favors Atlanta, just not as strongly. It gives the Braves a 46% chance to win the division and a 64% chance to reach the postseason. That’s still appreciably better than the 33% division odds and 54% postseason odds it gives the Phillies.
Of course, injuries, trades, and the oddities of baseball can drastically alter any projection in a hurry, but the reality is that the Phillies are now playing from behind both in the standings and in terms of talent and how that talent is expected to play moving forward. A series win in Atlanta, while not absolutely essential, will help accomplish three things:
- Bridge the gap in the standings
- Buy the Phillies some more wiggle room as they (hopefully) get healthier and look to make deals that bridge the talent gap
- Make us feel better about what we’ve seen recently
In short, it’s business time. The Phillies need to get going, and they need to get going now. Nick Pivetta, you’re up first.