Many moons ago, when it was still possible to suspend disbelief about the Phillies' turning things around and reaching the postseason, we identified 88 wins as the threshold they would need to reaching in order to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. As of Wednesday, that number is still pertinent. For the most optimistic faction of the fan base, the rallying cry involves the Cardinals' late-season surge to a playoff spot in 2011, a surge that ultimately cost the Phillies a spot in their fourth straight National League Championship Series. On Aug. 25 of that season, the Cardinals were 10.5 games out of a postseason spot, which is a half game further than the Phillies found themselves heading into Sunday's series finale against the Marlins.
If them, the thinking went, then why not us?
There is some logical validity to the notion. But there are some key differences between the Cardinals' situation in 2011 and the one in which the Phillies find themselves on Aug. 15. First and foremost, the Cardinals were 68-63 on Aug. 25, while the Phillies are 54-62. In order to finish with 88 wins, St. Louis needed to go 20-11, which is a .645 winning percentage. They ended up going 22-9, which is a .710 winning percentage. Both of those marks are lower than the .739 winning percentage the Phillies would have to post over their final 46 games to reach 88 wins. If the Cardinals were in the situation the Phillies are in now, they would have needed to go 23-8 to reach 88 wins, and 25-6 to reach 90 wins, which is the total the ended up needing to make the playoffs. If there was a second wild card spot last year, and the Cardinals were in the situation the Phillies are in now, they would have needed to go 24-7 in order to win that second wild card spot.
The big difference between the two situations is the number of teams standing in the way of the playoff spot. St. Louis needed to surpass two teams. The Phillies need to surpass four.
Of course, the Phillies can only control their own fate and, to a small degree, the fates of the teams still remaining on their schedule. And so we get back to the target of 88 wins. To reach that threshold, the Phillies need to go 34-12, which would match their best 46-game stretch of the 2011 season (the best 46-game mark in the NL this year is 32-14, posted by the Reds).
So the Phillies have done it before. If they did end up going 34-12 from here on out, they would need the Pirates to go no better than 24-22, the Cardinals 25-21, the Diamondbacks 30-16 and the Mets 33-13. And that is just to tie all of those teams for the final wild card spot.
Safe to say, the Mets and Diamondbacks are eminently passable. And the Pirates still have plenty to prove before we start granting them the benefit of the doubt. But so do the Phillies. During their 34-12 stretch last season, they averaged 5.3 runs per game. In their last 17 games, they have scored five or more runs a total of four times.
The most runs the Phillies have scored over any 46-game stretch this season has been 224, an average of 4.89 runs per game. The most wins they have tallied in any 25-game stretch is 25.
In other words, at no point this season have the Phillies provided any reason to believe that they have what it takes to go 34-12 the rest of the way. One look at today's lineup shows you why: Ty Wigginton is batting cleanup. Kevin Frandsen is batting second. Hector Luna is batting fifth.
Let's break it down further.
Including today's game against the Marlins, the Phillies have 24 games left against teams with losing records: seven against the Marlins, four against the Brewers, six against the Mets, three against the Rockies, and four against the Astros. Even if they went 24-0 against those teams, they would still need to go at least 10-12 in the 22 games they have against winning teams (Nine against the Nationals, seven against the Reds, six against the Braves). On the season, they are 25-35 against winning teams.