The Phillies are playing a very mean trick on their fanbase right now.
Their sweep of a Sunday doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies, 3-2 in Game 1 and 7-4 in Game 2, has pulled the team to within six games of the second wild card spot, currently held by the defending world champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.
And now, all the talk is about how the Phils are back in the playoff picture.
It’s true the Phils’ odds of reaching the postseason have more than doubled in the last 24 hours. Before Sunday’s Game 1, they had a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs.
That number has now ballooned to 0.7%.
I hope someone in the Phils’ ticket office has warmed up the printing machine.
Here’s the deal. The Phillies’ late-season run of winning is fantastic and wonderful and portends good things for 2013. They’ve won 15 of their last 21 to pull within two games of .500. The bullpen has pitched extremely well during that stretch, with some of the young guys (Aumont, Horst, DeFratus) doing a wonderful job. The offense has come around too, averaging 4.6 runs per game.
Overall, the team is playing much crisper, and they’ve become fun to watch once again.
But let’s be realistic for just a second. A playoff appearance is extraordinarily unlikely.
The Phils still have to battle with the Brewers (who have the same record as the Phillies), the Pirates, the Dodgers and the Cards in order to get in.
Their record is 69-71. To get to 89 wins, which is a good benchmark number for what will likely be needed to get the second wild card, the Phillies would need to go 20-2 over their last 22 games.
In order to get to 85 wins, which would put them in an iffier position, they’d have to go 16-6.
That latter number could happen. Their next three series are all against some of the worst teams in the NL. They start a three-game series at home against the 63-78 Marlins on Monday, then travel to their personal house of horrors, the 44-96 Houston Astros for a four-game set, then head to New York for a three-game match-up against the 65-75 Mets.
That’s 10 games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .408. If the Phillies are to have any shot, the realistically have to go 9-1.
The Phils then finish up the regular season with three at home against Atlanta (81-60), a team fighting for a playoff spot, three at home against the first-place Nats (86-54), three more against the Marlins in Florida, and then finish up the season with three in DC.
And as much as their own play is a factor, the Phillies’ postseason chances really rest on the shoulders of the Cards, Dodgers, Pirates and Brewers. The Phillies need all four teams in front of them to falter, and falter badly.
After their 2007 miracle run to the playoffs and the remarkable comebacks by the Rays and Cardinals last year, it’s understandable fans might think the Phils’ chances are more realistic than they actually are.
But in all three of those cases, each of those teams were chasing only one team. The Phils were pursuing the Mets, the Rays were hunting the Red Sox and the Cardinals were stalking the Braves.
This is much different. The Phillies are hunting four teams, five if you count the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are only half a game behind the Phils.
Everyone should hold off getting too excited until the number of teams in front of the Phils has been whittled down to one or two. If the Phillies get to within 2-3 games of a playoff spot with a week left in the season and only one team in front of them, then it would be reasonable to start legitimately thinking playoffs. Until then, that 0.7% playoff odds number is the more accurate gauge of where the team really stands.
Still, it’s fun to get excited. And it’s always great to have a reason to watch the team, even if it is a longshot.
But the overriding goal of the Phillies should be to continue to evaluate their young players and assess for 2013.
They should not lose sight of that, even as they creep a bit closer to that second wild card spot.