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Analyzing the 2012 Phillies’ Wild Card Chances

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Lately, it seems that everyone who writes about the Phillies has posted their own version of a “Will the Phillies be Buyers or Sellers at the Trade Deadline?” article.

During an opening stretch of 65 games that has often seemed like 650, most Phillies fans have probably alternated between both trade deadline approaches depending on the game they just watched and/or the states of their fragile psyches.

To be fair, when a preseason favorite approaches the month of July nine games south of its division lead, the analysis of buying versus selling is probably worthwhile.

The arguments for selling usually focus on the expiring contracts of Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino while also expressing the need to infuse youthful talent into a franchise rife with old, ailing and expensive players.  

ruben amaro jr

Those arguing for a buyer’s approach remind us that teams like the Giants and Cardinals have recently won it all from Wild Card positions. They also emphasize that the return of the Phillies’ injured stars will make the team’s mid-season acquisitions the most significant of any team in baseball.

But perhaps one of the most important analyses of the Phillies’ trade deadline strategy is the one that figures out the likelihood of the Phillies earning one of the two Wild Card spots that give them a chance at making a postseason run.  

For the first time, Major League Baseball will award a playoff spot to a fifth team in each league.  Surely, Ruben Amaro Jr. and company have already thought about what that means for their playoff chances, and it will likely be a part of their trade deadline strategy.

So, let’s first consider what it usually takes to earn a Wild Card spot in the National League.  Here is a look at the regular season records of the NL Wild Card teams over the last five seasons:

Wild Card Teams 2007-2011

2011:  St. Louis       90-72
2010:  Atlanta          91-71
2009:  Colorado      92-70
2008:  Milwaukee    90-72
2007:  Colorado      90-73

Average Wild Card Record: 91-71       

Next, we look at the records of the teams that would have been the second Wild Cards over the last five years (if such a spot had existed):

2nd Wild Card Would Have Been:

2011:  Atlanta               89-73
2010:  San Diego        90-72
2009:  San Francisco  88-74
2008:  New York           89-73
2007:  San Diego         89-73

Average “2nd Wild Card” Record: 89-73

In looking at the preceding lists of teams, it seems a National League team that earns 88-90 wins will have a very good chance of reaching the postseason.

What does that mean for a Phillies team that is looking to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight year?

Well, with a record of 31-34, the Phillies are now 22 games away from the All-Star break.  If they can arrive at the break with a record of .500 or better (44-43 could be a goal after the 87 “first half” games), they would need to go 46-29 after the All-Star break in order to win 90 games.

That’s a stretch of 75 games during which the Phillies would need to finish 17 games above .500.

chase utleyThat stretch would begin on July 13th, which would likely mean that Roy Halladay is returning to a lineup that has already featured Chase Utley for a week or two.  A complete guess is that Ryan Howard would make his return to the team at the beginning of August, which would mean that he plays in the season’s final 59 games.

So, the question that Ruben Amaro will ultimately be facing is this: Is this Phillies team capable of a stretch of 75 games at 17 games over .500 once his injured veterans return?

The speculation here is that he and the Phillies have invested too much in the current crop of players to give up on that possibility.  That means that we should expect the Phillies to be buyers at the deadline.  Unless of course, they arrive at the All-Star break far below the .500 mark that we suggested.

The scary thing for Phillies fans to answer is the same question that Amaro will be wrestling with.  Is the team you’ve been watching capable of a stretch run in which they play nearly 20 games above .500?

On second thought, maybe it’s better if you don’t answer that one.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Photos:
Ruben Amaro: Sarah J. Glover
Thumbnail: Amaro/shades: David Maialetti
Chase Utley: Delaware Online