It’s probably irresponsible to suggest that any baseball series is a do-or-die proposition before the Fourth of July, but I’m a pretty irresponsible guy, so I have no problem at all writing the following: The Phillies open a three-game set tonight in Atlanta against the NL East-leading Braves, and if they have any designs of mounting a comeback to claim a division title this season, then they have to win this series.

Mathematically speaking, of course, the Phillies could go down to SunTrust Park this week, lose two out of three, and still go on to chase down a 6.5-game deficit over the next three months. Theoretically, yes, there’s still plenty of time, but if they do lose two out of three (a sweep would be devastating), here’s how the standings will look on Thursday night:

Braves: 52-36

Phillies: 45-42

Trailing teams make up this type of margin all of the time, but the teams that do typically mess around early on before getting their shit together down the stretch to make a run, whereas with the Phillies, we’re still not sure if they’re even that good. They have some guys underperforming, true enough, but even with an uptick in production from guys like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura, it’s hard to look at their starting rotation and/or bullpen and figure the Phillies are destined to run down a team with Atlanta’s talent. Throw in the bad vibes of what would be another series loss, the incessant annoyance of the Tomahawk Chop, and the would-be realization that not even the power of a bamboo plant could help matters, and, well, it wouldn’t be great.

So if the Phillies do lose two out of three, what are we looking at here?

Let’s say the Braves, a team currently playing .588 baseball, regress (they probably won’t) and split their final 74 games at 37-37, bringing them to an 89-73 finish. The Phillies would need to fire off a 44-31 record (a .587 win-percentage) just to match them. They would also have to outlast the surging Nationals, a team whose season they helped revitalize when they were swept in Washington two weeks ago. None of this seems likely, but just how unlikely would it be? FanGraphs, which hates the 2019 Phillies, has the harshest forecast, but none of the popular projection models like them, and thus they combine to mathematically quantify my thesis: The Phillies are on the ropes.

Team FanGraphs FiveThirtyEight Baseball Prospectus
Braves 75.3% 71% 75.4%
Nationals 19.2% 16% 11.8%
Phillies 4.9% 11% 11.2%

The calculus of the Phillies’ current playoff odds isn’t quite as bleak–Baseball Prospectus gives them a 36.9% chance of reaching the postseason–but if they can’t find a way in Atlanta this week, then it’s probably time to stop playing make believe about a division championship.

Current betting odds mirror the urgency of the situation, too. On June 1, when the Phillies held a two game division lead, they were a -133 betting favorite to win the NL East at both SugarHouse Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook. Those odds represented terrible value even then, but as of this morning they are  +650 to win the division, a significant change in the market in the wake of their underwhelming 11-16 month of June. Basically, this change is another way of illustrating not only how far they’ve fallen, but just how critical it is that they surge in the opposite direction now.

By the way, if you’re feeling a Phillies rally in the coming months, here’s some advice–take them at +650 right now. While that number represents implied odds of a roughly 13.3% chance of winning the division, it’s still a more optimistic figure than the ones of the primary baseball projection models(thus still making them a poor value bet), but this is probably the best payout you’re going to get while they have a realistic chance of winning the division.

One other word of advice: Washington is also probably worth a look at a staggering +900 (a 10% probability) if you believe in FanGraphs’ model which gives them a 19.2% chance to win the division. You’re getting almost 2:1 value there.

So there it is, that’s the breakdown. The Phillies have to get going and they have to get going right now. The projections models and math show it, and the Phillies know it. That’s why they shuffled Aaron Nola ahead in the rotation to start tonight and on Sunday, and it’s also why you won’t see Vince Velasquez as a starter in this upcoming series.