AS THE SUN set yesterday evening, the Phillies' record was 32-38. That is the key number, that and their minus-28 run differential. Those two numbers, taken together, indicate a team with a bad record that has played badly. There is no getting around it, even after their sweep of the Atlanta Braves.
So, the question: What are the odds they can make the playoffs?
This isn't about the last week or so, when the Phils have begun to show a pulse. This isn't about winning 10-5 in Atlanta, or about being only a handful of games behind in the National League East. The GB number should not be the fixation. The record should be the fixation - because that offers the most realistic assessment of where things stand.
We'll look at 15 years of numbers, which would seem to be a decent sample. The Phils won 32 of their first 70 games, and we'll look at teams that won between 29 and 34 of their first 70 games - in other words, teams essentially in the same place as the Phillies are today.
There were 143 such teams in the last 15 years.
Ten made the playoffs.
That's 7 percent.
So you are running a baseball franchise and you are trying to do it in a responsible way - and there is no question the Phillies are trying. To suggest otherwise is absurd. So you are trying to do the right thing, trying to win again as soon as is reasonable, and you are debating what to do with one eye on the calendar and one eye on those standings.
And so you ask yourselves:
Is the smart move to dismantle the team at the trade deadline, as much as possible, or is it to buy a ticket on what is nearly a 15-1 shot at making the playoffs?
The answer seems obvious. The problem is that it is a little bit less obvious than it was a week ago - but only a little bit, and that is the point that everybody needs to recognize. If you want to make the counterargument, you would say that the Dodgers were in the same position last year and made it, and the A's and Tigers were in the same position the year before and made it.
But the Dodgers were 1 of 12 teams in that position in 2013. The A's and Tigers were 2 of 7 teams in 2012. And in the 3 years before that, a combined 30 teams were in that position and none of them made the playoffs. It is a longshot and nobody should suggest otherwise. Considering how the Phillies played last year, it is fair to say that it is even more of a longshot.
So why would you stand pat? Two reasons. One is that nobody is offering you anything that you want for your veteran pieces, even if the Phillies throw in a bunch of cash. (A note: Throwing in that bunch of cash is the best use of a wealthy franchise's limited resources. It is essentially the purchase of better young talent that would otherwise have to be developed internally, and it is far smarter than throwing the money at veteran free agents. If baseball has learned anything over the last few years, it is that.)
So that's one reason - because the offers are not enticing and the calculation is that they might be better in the offseason (especially with Cliff Lee and his lingering injury issues). It is their business to know the marketplace, not ours - and if that's what they decide, at least there is a rationale.
The other reason for standing pat would be because the Phillies have decided, one last time, to place a bet with their heart. That's the one that cannot happen. Maybes and might-bes cannot drive this thing, not now - and neither can sentiment about players like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, players who every baseball fan in the city should be justifiably sentimental about. For that matter, neither can sentiment about the great era in franchise history that is closing be the reason, however much they don't want it to end.
It's just time, the last week notwithstanding. Last season and this season have made it plain. The Phillies can't make this decision with their hearts - or with their eyes focused on the column headed by the letters GB.