Were the Phillies Unbeknownst to Us Asymptotically Approaching a Pennant Race?
For those of you who failed to notice, the Phillies beat the Dodgers 3-1 on Friday and were 7.5 behind them in the wild-card race with 2 games left in the series. I actually read a headline (well, a caption) in a Philadelphia newspaper that brazenly proclaimed that the Phils were in the wild-card race. They were last in their division, four games below .500, with seven teams between them and the wild card (and had just traded their star third baseman) yet they were playoff contenders.
They have since lost both remaining games in the series, the second one at the hands-and bat-of phormer Phillie Omar Daal, and are 9.5 games behind LA, with their playoff dreams all but a memory. It seems that this was just another in a string of meaningless Phillie apogees starting with the 1993 season and culminating with the unexpected playoff run last year.
Were the Phillies actually in the race? If they had swept the Dodgers (they lost by slim margins in both games), could they now be in the thick of pennant fever? Let's say they did beat Los Angeles in the last two games. The wild-card standings would be:
San Francisco 61-50 .550 -
Los Angeles 60-51 .541 1
Cincinnati 58-52 .527 2.5
Houston 57-53 .518 3.5
NY Mets 55-55 .500 5.5
Montreal 55-56 .495 6
Florida 55-56 .495 6
Philadelphia 54-56 .491 6.5
Did you notice that the Phils would still be basically out of the race even after sweeping the Dodgers? As the knock off one team another just takes its place. There are too many teams and too many interdependencies to overcome. If a wild-card leader loses, probably another contender wins. The grains of sand shift but the end result is the same. A seven-game deficit may be overcome in a division race with a hot streak and a couple of head-to-head series, but the wild-card is just too complicated a nexus to best so easily.
It's just another reason to hate the wild card: The Phillies appear to be in a race, can advertise to the fans that they are in a race, and yet it's just an illusion. It allows teams to play it both ways. They can sell off talent like the Phils, Marlins, and Expos did before the trade deadline and still promote a pennant race. The Mets are the only team that seems not to notice this dual benefit, or maybe they realize their rabid press wouldn't allow them the luxury