Midway, the Phillies are Alive and Not More

Tonight, the Phillies will play their 81st game, marking the halfway point in their season. They have a 42-38 record right now, meaning they’re on a 85-77 pace for the season, their best record since 2011. They are 1 game out of the Wild Card and 8 games back in the division. They just finished their best month since the glory days of 2010. Last year the 6th best team in the NL finished with 83 wins, meaning the Phillies are on pace to be good enough to make the playoffs. Indeed they just went 6-4 against three contenders in the NL.

The ballclub has done this in spite of serious challenges. The best player is hurt and out until at least mid-August. Last year’s best two starting pitchers started slow after late starts. Their second most consistent hitter is out until September. They haven’t yet identified a lockdown closer. Their $20 million plus catcher and right fielder haven’t had great first halves. They fired their manager and people like me said they were done.

While I conclude they’re a healthier contender than I thought a month ago, I still don’t really love the Phillies playoff odds. There are six spots in the field, but obviously they can’t win the NL West or Central, so there are only four actually available (NL East and three Wild Cards). Their odds of making up 8 games over the final 82 on the Mets, even if they’re significantly better than the club from Queens, aren’t great. Making up 4.5 games over the Braves in that time, for my money the best team in the NL aren’t so great either. That leaves two spots to be split between the Phillies, Padres and Giants out West, and whoever is second in the Central between St. Louis and Milwaukee. San Diego is up 4 on us now, St. Louis up 1, and the Giants back 1. Not only do those divisions have more bad teams, and the West Coast teams more pitching depth, but the Phillies still have a few division games left, which have plagued them this year. Even one cold streak from an offense without Harper, and this could end. Especially with a 5th starting pitcher by committee situation right now with a Ranger Suarez injured.

Even with the odds being long in my eyes, the Phillies should buy and try to make the playoffs. Their top two starters (Wheeler and Nola) are more than capable of getting hot and carrying the team in the playoffs. Harper and Segura will return and provide a boost later on. A hot streak from Schwarber or Hoskins could carry the team in October. Maybe most importantly, Realmuto and Castellanos would almost have to play better to make it.

So what to add? They definitely quality and depth in the bullpen. An 8th or 9th inning arm should be part of the plan. They could trade for two relievers, or get a reliever and starting pitcher, then slide Suarez back into the bullpen for the stretch run. The offense doesn’t need a ton, but if they could get anything, a center fielder wouldn’t hurt.

Before the season, I predicted a Wild Card berth for the Phillies. My head says that’s highly unlikely, particularly with the roster as is. I do think they’ll win 84-86 games though and remain a factor. In the interest of sticking by my convictions I’ll predict a surprising finish that defies the odds and gets them in. Best I stick by my guns.

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