At the quarter pole: Breaking down the teams the Phillies are chasing
With the regular season roughly 25 percent complete, we take a look at the pretenders and contenders.
ESPN's current playoff odds formula gives the Phillies a 14.9 percent chance of making the postseason. As I wrote in today's paper, you can talk yourself into believing that the likelihood is much higher, but doing so will require you to ignore a lot of things that can still go wrong with this team. In other words, it would require you to sacrifice some objectivity.
In the absence of anything more substantive to talk about, let's take a quick look at the teams the Phillies are chasing through the lens of everybody's favorite scenario: if the postseason started tomorrow.
Division winners (current win pace in parentheses)
NL East: Atlanta (89)
NL Central: St. Louis (108)
NL West: San Francisco (93)
Wild Cards: Cincinnati (97), Pittsburgh (93)
Left out: Arizona (90), Washington (85), Colorado (85), Philadelphia (75), San Diego (74), Dodgers (70), Cubs (68), Brewers (68), Mets (61), Marlins (44)
Braves: They have lost 16 of their last 25, hitting just .233/.310/.378 and scoring 3.8 runs per game in the process. Don't be fooled, though. Atlanta has played just five games against the Mets and Marlins, two teams whom the Phillies have faced 13 times (with a 9-4 record). The Braves still have 39 games remaining against the three worst teams in the National League. According to Baseball-Reference.com, their remaining schedule is the easiest in the NL.
Nationals: They've scored fewer than four runs in 24 of their 40 games and fewer than three runs in half. Compare that to the Phillies, who've scored fewer than four runs in 22 of 41 and fewer than three in 16. Both teams have been shut out five times.
Cardinals: St. Louis pitching has been absurd thus far, with a major-league-best 3.03 ERA that is nearly a third of a run better than the next closest team. To put that in perspective, the Phillies finished their Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt season of 2011 with a 3.02 ERA. And the Cardinals rotation has been a half run better than the Phillies rotation was that season (2.33 ERA for the Cardinals this year compared with a 2.86 ERA for the Phillies in 2011). Question is, can the Cardinals really expect 22-year-old Shelby Miller to maintain his 1.40 ERA, or 35-year-old Jake Westbrook to maintain his 1.62 ERA? And is Edward Mujica really a sustainable solution at the closer position?
Giants: They are 15-6 against the NL West and 8-11 against everybody else. Their bullpen remains their undisputed strength, and it can carry a team a long way.
Diamondbacks: Take a quick look at their numbers and you wonder how they are 23-18. Miguel Montero has a .554 OPS, Josh Wilson a .615 OPS, Cliff Pennington a .574 OPS, Martin Prado a .632 OPS, Cody Ross a .721 OPS, A.J. Pollock a .729 OPS. Only three of their regulars have given them better than league average production at the plate, and their No. 1 and No. 4 starters have been well below average. But they have a middle-of-the-order hitter who is an early NL MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt, and they have a bullpen that is 10-6 with a 3.10 ERA while averaging more than three innings per game (compare that to the Phillies, who are 5-8 with a 4.18 ERA while averaging about 2.75 innings per game.
Reds: Rookie right-hander Tony Cingrani has the look of a player who can provide a critical piece to a strong playoff run. In five starts, he has a 2.89 ERA while averaging 11.9 K/9, 23. BB/9 and 1.9 HR/9. That's a pretty good production out of a No. 5 starter who joins a rotation that has not missed a beat since losing Johnny Cueto. On the offensive side of things, Shin Soo Choo and Joey Votto are showing just how far two hot hitters can carry a lineup. The Reds have some serious holes: Short stop and left field have been black holes thus far and there is little reason to believe either will get better. If Cincinnati can find a way to add another hitter before the trade deadline, I'd pick them to overtake St. Louis. Either way, I think one of the two wild cards definitely comes from the NL Central.
Pirates: The forecast calls for another second half fade. The bullpen has pitched well over its talent thus far, and Jeff Locke is not going to maintain that 3.15 ERA all season. Any team that has started Jonathan Sanchez in four of its games is a team that has some serious issues. And while Andrew McCutchen will improve on offense, Russell Martin will return to Earth.
At the end of the year, I think the Phillies finish ahead of the Pirates. Everybody else? I'm not so sure.