The Phillies Are Pulling Ahead in the Wild Card Race

It's becoming clear that one Wild Card contender stands above the rest; the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in the race.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - AUGUST 9: Michael Lorenzen #22 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates with J.T. Realmuto #10 after throwing no-hitter against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on August 9, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 7-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

If the Phillies had lost just one more game, and the Brewers had one additional victory, Philadelphia would have been left on the outside looking in. Indeed, if it weren’t for a mid-June, pinch-hit, ninth-inning home run that rookie Matt Vierling sent into the seats against a fearsome Josh Hader, the Phillies might never have gotten the chance to go on their Cinderella run to the NL pennant.

Things are looking different this time around.

As the calendar flips to September, the Phillies are 5.5 games up in the Wild Card standings. They sit 3.0 games ahead of the Cubs in the second spot and 4.5 games up on the Giants in third. The remaining contending clubs – the Diamondbacks, the Reds, and the Marlins – sit 5.5, 6.0, and 7.5 games back, respectively.

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Here’s how the six Wild Card contenders stack up according to FanGraphs playoff odds. That red dot at the top – you know, the one just shy of 100% – is Philadelphia:

via FanGraphs, 09/01

Other sources are equally bullish on the Phillies. ESPN gives them 96.5% postseason odds, while Baseball Prospectus has them at 97.3%. Baseball Reference is the most confident of all, giving Philadelphia 98.7% odds to make the playoffs.

The Phillies haven’t been this much of a sure thing since 2011, when Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee led them to the best record in baseball.

So, how did they reach this point?

Funnily enough, their 2023 season has closely mirrored the previous year, at least in terms of results. It started with a mediocre April and a terrible May, followed by excellent results from June to August.

In fact, on September 1, 2022, the Phillies had a .557 winning percentage; today, their winning percentage sits at .556.

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However, there are two key differences between this year and last. For one thing, the competition isn’t as steep. The Mets are no longer a 100-win powerhouse with the first Wild Card spot on lock. Of the five teams behind Philadelphia in the Wild Card standings, none has a higher winning percentage than the Phillies did in 2022.

The way things are trending right now, 85 wins will be enough to lock up the final Wild Card slot.

As for the second key difference? The Phillies still have September.

Philadelphia ran into a rough patch over the final weeks of the 2022 season; they went 7-13 in their last 20 games.

On September 14, the Phillies were 80-62. If they kept up that pace, they would have finished 91-71, easily waltzing into the playoffs with the second Wild Card spot. Instead, they stumbled to an 87-75 finish.

This year, they have the chance for a do-over.

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A team that looks terrific one month can fall flat on its face the next – and vice versa. The Phillies know that better than anyone. Still, with the way they’ve been playing lately, it’s hard to believe they’ll suffer another September collapse.

The Phillies finished August with a +63 run differential; only the Dodgers, Braves, and Mariners were better. They scored 176 runs, tied for second-most in baseball.

Their batters led the majors with 59 home runs and a .905 OPS. All but one of their regular players had a wRC+ above 110. The only one who didn’t, center fielder Johan Rojas, is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

The pitchers weren’t quite as dominant, but no one can say they didn’t do their part. The staff combined for a 3.81 ERA (8th in MLB) and 3.3 fWAR (9th). The starters led the league in innings pitched, while the bullpen ranked among the top ten in ERA and FIP.

For several years, one of this team’s biggest problems has been getting everything to click at the same time. J.T. Realmuto only hits when Bryce Harper gets injured; Rhys Hoskins only gets hot when Kyle Schwarber is ice cold; Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler can’t pull off consecutive quality starts. It’s always something different, yet it’s always the same.

The Phillies have enough star power to compete with anyone, but it just hasn’t all come together – until now.

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Suddenly, this doesn’t look like a team that could fall apart at any moment. This looks like a team that could win it all.

The Phillies are firing on all cylinders, and as such, they’re pulling ahead in the Wild Card race. It’s too late for them to catch the Braves in the NL East, but this team is getting to the playoffs. And once they get there, we know the kind of trouble they can cause.