Phillies

Why Phillies would be better off finishing behind Marlins than ahead of them

Phillies

Counterintuitive as it may be, the Phillies would have a much easier playoff path by finishing behind the Marlins than in front of them.

They'd be better off as the 7-seed than the 5-seed.

Before explaining the meaningful reasons why, let's get out of the way that the Phillies obviously can think only about winning every day. Entering Saturday night, six National League teams were within one game of each other and fighting for four playoff spots. They are all thinking exclusively about getting in, not maneuvering their way to the best matchup.

Entering play Saturday night, the Marlins were in second place in the NL East and the 5-seed in the NL playoff bracket. The Phillies were in third place in the NL East and the 7-seed in the bracket.

There is no playoff reseeding this year. In a year with a pandemic, it reduces travel uncertainty so that teams begin the playoffs by knowing exactly where they are headed by advancing.

If the Phillies finish in the 7-spot, their most likely opponents in the first-round Best of 3 and NLDS would be the Cubs and Braves.

If the Phillies finish in the 5-spot, they would be almost guaranteed to face the Padres in the Best of 3, then the Dodgers if they advance.

Cubs-Braves is just an easier road than Padres-Dodgers. Both matchups.

The Cubs have spent most of the season in first place but with an anemic offense. Kris Bryant isn't hitting. Javier Baez isn't hitting. Anthony Rizzo isn't hitting. The Cubs can throw Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks at you, but the Phillies can throw Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.

 

Would you rather face that Cubs offense or a Padres offense with Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, a red-hot Wil Myers, capable bats like Trent Grisham, Mitch Moreland, Austin Nola and Tommy Pham, and an NL Rookie of the Year candidate in Jake Cronenworth? The Cubs have two regulars with an OPS over .800. The Padres have six. 

Would you rather face the Braves, a team the Phillies split with this season and won the season series against last year, or the most complete team in baseball in the Dodgers?

Whenever a situation like this arises where one playoff path is easier than another, you'll hear players or coaches or fans say things like, "can't worry about that" or "to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

It's the right, sportsmanlike thing to say. But it doesn't always make it the right thing to do. In 2011, would the Phillies have been better off facing an OK Braves team in the NLDS or a red-hot Cardinals team that had to win like crazy in September just to get in?

The Phillies, by facing the Braves that final weekend of the regular season, could have decided it for themselves. They swept the Braves (89-73) and then lost in the NLDS to a Cardinals team (90-72) that went on to win the World Series.

Again, the Phillies don't have the luxury of strategizing to finish sixth or seventh rather than fifth. They just have to win games and remain in the eight-team field.

But it seems abundantly clear with how each team has performed in 2020 that with no playoff reseeding, the Cubs-Braves bracket is an easier path to the NLCS than the Padres-Dodgers bracket.