The Phillies’ chances to break their postseason drought received a boost on Thursday as Major League Baseball and the players union agreed to increase the number of teams that reach the playoffs.
The agreement will allow for eight teams in both leagues to play in October instead of five. The top two teams in each division — East, Central, West — will qualify for the postseason. The seventh and eighth playoff teams will be the two teams with the best records outside of those six.
The first round will be best-of-three followed by a best-of-five Division Series, then the best-of-seven League Championship Series and World Series.
“I personally like it. Because I think what every organization and team asks for is, if you’re going to have wild cards, there’s some fairness to it,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “And with East Coast playing East Coast, Central playing Central, West playing West, there’s no crossover. We’re not going to see any other teams in the National League besides the teams in our division. So I think it is fair that this is added.”
“But as far as my plans changing as a manager, our goal is to win the division. That’s our goal. And if you do that, you’re going to be in the top three seeds. That’s our goal. So it really hasn’t changed.”
The Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011 and it would have been a difficult task to reach the playoffs in the original format after playing a schedule exclusively against the National League East and American League East. Before Thursday’s agreement, three division champions and two wild-card teams qualified for the playoffs.
FanGraphs projects the Phillies to finish 31-29 this season, which is the fourth-best record in the division and tied for the eight-best in the National League. The Phillies, at least according to projections, begin the season as a borderline playoff team. Reaching October, even with added spots, will not be a breeze. But the Phillies’ chances are now certainly better.
“I also personally think it’s great for baseball,” Girardi said. “At a time when we’ve all been starving for live sports, I think you’ll keep more communities, more cities and states, involved in the excitement of baseball because your team has a chance to be in the playoffs, and once you get to that spot, everything goes. I think it’s great for baseball.”
Zach Eflin is on track to start Tuesday against the Yankees after completing a simulated game on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin, who dealt with back spasms during summer camp, threw 60 pitches in four innings. The Phillies will see how he feels Friday before officially saying he’ll start the season’s fifth game. …The Phillies will keep Spencer Howard, Enyel De Los Santos, Connor Seabold, Damon Jones, and Maurico Llovera stretched out as starters at their alternate-training site in Lehigh Valley in case a need arises at the major-league level.