Rarely in baseball history have fans started thinking seriously about the playoffs with their team sporting a record of 15 wins and 15 losses.
Not only is a .500 record usually on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in, but typically you’re still 132 games from the finish line with that win-loss tally.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, though, 30 games played represents the midway mark, and more than half the teams will partake in the postseason. The Philadelphia Phillies, with 15 up, 15 down, and 30 to go, are exactly halfway home and on pace to play October baseball.
Especially if they continue to perform like they have for the past week, when they’ve won six of seven, all against preseason NL East favorites Atlanta and Washington.
The ’pen is mightier
Can the Phillies stay hot? Well, to make the playoffs, all they really need to do is avoid going cold. A final record of 30-30 is highly likely to get them there.
The legal sportsbooks in Pennsylvania sometimes offer odds on each team’s chances of making the playoffs, but none of them had those numbers available at midday Tuesday. Still, according to Baseball Reference, the Phils are now 62% likely to make the postseason. That means if you see odds of about -160 or shorter on the Phillies as a playoffs “yes,” you’re getting a decent price.
The Phils addressed their biggest area of need as the trade deadline approached: the bullpen.
The offense is not the problem; the Phils have the fifth highest team batting average in the majors and the third highest team OPS — and even though they are undoubtedly helped in those rankings by playing in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, MVP candidate Bryce Harper leads what is proving to be a solid lineup from top to bottom.
Their starting pitching is adequate, with Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler making for a very strong 1-2 and Jake Arrieta (despite getting shelled last time out) and Zach Eflin providing a serviceable 3-4. Hopefully, rookie Spencer Howard will continue pitching well enough to keep Vince Velasquez out of the rotation.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been a disaster. It’s not as severe and historic a disaster as it was at the quarter-season mark, when the collective reliever ERA was an almost inconceivable 10.19. Still, a league-average bullpen would have the Phillies currently in first place in the NL East and cruising toward the playoffs.
So the Phils picked up David Phelps, Brandon Workman, and Heath Hembree, hoping that will (a) carry them into October, and (b) give them a fighting chance against better teams once the playoffs begin.
Worth a flier on the Phils?
Only the sportsbooks operated by Kambi — DraftKings, BetRivers, Parx, and Unibet — have odds up at the moment for the NL East. There, the division-leading Braves are -225, the Phillies are next at +600, and then the Mets sit at +750, the Marlins at +800, and the Nationals at +1200.
Baseball Reference pegs the Phils as having a 6.8% chance of taking the division, so, no, those 6/1 odds are not your friend.
Remember that the Phillies have had 14 games postponed by either weather or COVID issues already this season, leaving them with a current schedule of 30 games in the next 27 days. It won’t be easy to keep playing the .625 ball they’ve played over their last 16 games and surpass the Braves, even if Atlanta has been somewhat diminished by injuries.
But the Phillies are 62% likely to make the playoffs, whether by finishing in the top two in the division or qualifying as a wild card, and once there, the potential for a crap shoot far exceeds what we see during a normal MLB season (when it’s already a crap shoot, at least compared to the NBA and NFL’s postseasons).
The opening round is best of three. Best of three! You’d better believe the legitimately good teams — particularly the loaded L.A. Dodgers — are dreading that.
So with the playoffs wide open, are the Phillies a good bet to win either the NL pennant or, by some miracle, the World Series?
Here are their current odds for both:
|Sportsbook||NL Odds||World Series Odds|
Using the odds that give you the most bang for your buck, if the team has a 62% chance of making the playoffs, then you’re getting a little over 11/1 on them to win the NL once there and almost 28/1 to win the World Series. (If all teams were equal, they’d be 7/1 and 15/1, respectively, once qualifying for the postseason.)
It comes down to whether you believe the Phillies really are this better-than-average team they’ve looked like for the past week. If so, you’re getting attractive numbers on them right now.
If not … well, you can’t bet on the 2019-20 76ers anymore, and tonight might be your last chance to bet on the Flyers … so … you should know that the Eagles’ season begins on Sept. 13.
Photo by Bill Streitcher / USA Today Sports