Inside the Phillies: Assessing the chances of Phillies and five other teams chasing second wild card

Posted: September 15, 2012

Let's start by saying the standings at coolstandings.com are really cool.

Go there, and you can easily find out that on Aug. 22, after a 3-2 home loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the Phillies were still 10 games under .500 at 57-67 and 14 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League's second wild-card berth.

The website also has a formula for figuring out a team's chances of making the playoffs. That day, the Phillies were one of six teams at 0.1 percent. To understand how close that slim chance was to none, the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins were also listed at 0.1.

Those were the two wretched teams the Phillies swept during their recent six-game homestand, creating a citywide buzz that seemed less likely than an elephant's tightrope walk across Citizens Bank Park.

But there were the Phillies at Minute Maid Park on Thursday night "dead in" the middle of the playoff chase, as manager Charlie Manuel put it. That, of course, is much preferred to being dead.

As recently as last week, the Phillies' playoff hopes were being listed at 0.1 percent. But now their chances have climbed to 5.5 percent with a four-game series against the worst team in baseball staring them directly in the face.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the six teams that have the best chance of claiming the second wild card with less than three weeks remaining in the season. This is all based on information before Thursday's games.

St. Louis Cardinals (75-68) 

Standing for second wild card: First.  

Playoff probability, according to coolstandings.com: 55.3 percent.

Games remaining: 19.

Schedule: at L.A. Dodgers (Sept. 13-16); vs. Houston (Sept. 18-20); at Chicago Cubs (Sept. 21-23); at Houston (Sept. 24-26); vs. Washington (Sept. 28-30); vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 1-3).

Comments: The Cardinals had lost six of seven and 11 of 15 as they headed into Dodger Stadium on Thursday night. The best offense in the league was hitting .232 and averaging 3.1 runs per game in that stretch. With the Cardinals and Dodgers at the top of the second wild-card chase, the four-game series that started Thursday was huge for both teams but also a chance for the teams behind them to gain ground on at least one.

After the Dodgers series, the Cardinals have the benefit of playing two of the worst teams in baseball for nine games before finishing the season at home against the two best teams in the National League. The last week may actually work to the Cardinals' benefit because the Nationals and Reds will likely have already clinched division titles.

Los Angeles Dodgers (74-69)

Standing for second wild card: Second, one game back.

Playoff probability, according to coolstandings.com: 20.0 percent.

Games remaining: 19.

Schedule: vs. St. Louis (Sept. 13-16); at Washington (Sept. 18-20); at Cincinnati (Sept. 21-23); at San Diego (Sept. 25-27); vs. Colorado (Sept. 28-30); vs. San Francisco (Oct. 1-3).

Comments: No team was more aggressive than the Dodgers before and after the trade deadline, but they were 20-20 since Aug. 1 before Thursday's game and 7-14 in their last 21 games. Unlike the Cardinals, the Dodgers must play Washington and Cincinnati before they will have clinched their division titles, and they also have to play against a hot Padres team in San Diego.

Pittsburgh Pirates (72-70)

Standings for second wild card: Third, 21/2 games back.

Playoff probability, according to coolstandings.com: 9.5 percent.

Games remaining: 20.

Schedule: at Chicago Cubs (Sept. 14-17); vs. Milwaukee (Sept. 18-20); at Houston (Sept. 21-23); at N.Y. Mets (Sept. 24-27); vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 28-30); vs. Atlanta (Oct. 1-3).

Comments: For the second straight year, the Pirates have gone into a late-season tailspin. They were 12-26 since Aug. 3 and had also lost six straight and 10 of 12. The only thing they have going for them right now is a weak schedule over the next two weeks that will be followed by what should be meaningless games for the Reds and Braves in the final week.

Milwaukee Brewers (72-71)

Standings for second wild card: Tied for fourth, three games back.

Playoff probability, according to coolstandings.com: 7.1 percent.

Games remaining: 19.

Schedule: vs. N.Y. Mets (Sept. 14-16); at Pittsburgh (Sept. 18-20); at Washington (Sept. 21-24); at Cincinnati (Sept. 25-27); vs. Houston (Sept. 28-30); vs. San Diego (Oct. 1-3).

Comments: The Brewers have been almost as hot as the Phillies and have a similar pedigree as a team with postseason experience. They were 12 games below .500 as recently as Aug. 19 and have since gone 18-5, averaging 6.1 runs per game in the process. How they fare in their series at Washington and Cincinnati could determine their fate.

Phillies (72-71)

Standings for second wild card: Tied for fourth, three games back.

Playoff probability, according to coolstandings.com: 5.5 percent.

Games remaining: 19.

Schedule: at Houston (Sept. 13-16); at N.Y. Mets (Sept. 17-19); vs. Atlanta (Sept. 21-23); vs. Washington (Sept. 25-27); at Miami (Sept. 28-30); at Washington (Oct. 1-3).

Comments: The Phillies were 21-9 since Aug. 12 before Thursday's game in Houston. They averaged 4.5 runs per game and had a 3.01 ERA in that stretch. Before that date, they were averaging 4.1 runs per game and had a 4.06 ERA. After the series in Houston, they finish the schedule against all NL East teams. At one point this season they were 16-29 against their own division, but they have since won nine of 12.

Arizona Diamondbacks (71-72)

Standings for second wild card: Sixth, four games back.

Playoff probability according to coolstandings.com: 4.3 percent.

Games remaining: 19.

Schedule: vs. San Francisco (Sept. 14-16); vs. San Diego (Sept. 18-20); at Colorado (Sept. 21-24); at San Francisco (Sept. 25-27); vs. Chicago Cubs (Sept. 28-30); vs. Colorado (Oct. 1-3).

Comments: The Diamondbacks appeared to have let a potential playoff berth slip away by losing nine of 11 from Aug. 20 through Labor Day. But they have since won five of seven to also climb back in it. They have a friendly final week of the season if they can stay within striking distance.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @brookob.

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