Best Record in the NL?

Right now, there's lots of angst in Phillies fandom about the inconsistent, sometimes non-existent offense, Ryan Howard's hitting since his injury, Jimmy Rollins' spot in the lineup, and the fifth starter spot.

But all this fretting is missing a much more important point.  The Phillies have a very real chance to finish the season with something they haven't had since 1977 - the best record in the NL.

Going into tonight's games, the overall NL standings look like this:

Team Wins Losses Win % GB Run Diff.
Cincinnati 79 58 0.577 - 94
Atlanta 79 59 0.572 0.5 124
Philadelphia 79 60 0.568 1 72
San Diego 77 59 0.566 1.5 104
San Francisco 77 61 0.558 2.5 73

For good reason, most of the focus has been on how far the Phillies are behind the Braves (now only half a game) and how far they are up on the Giants (now only 1.5 games).  And, with the playoff teams being decided by division, we rarely get a glimpse of the overall NL standings.

But here we are with three and a half weeks of baseball left to be played and the Phillies are just 1 game out of first place in the NL.  The three biggest reasons the Phillies might just pull off this feat are Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt.  Having these three anchoring their rotation for the last 23 games of the season is a huge advantage.

However, in order to pull this off, the Phillies will need to overcome their schedule.  By strength of their remaining opponents, the Phillies have the second toughest road in front of them:

Team Opp Win %
Padres 0.523
Phillies 0.501
Braves 0.492
Giants 0.491
Reds 0.460

Unfortunately, the Reds, with the best record in the NL now, have a sizable advantage here, as they face a steady diet of the Pirates, D-Backs, Astros, and Brewers in the remaining weeks.  But the Reds also have the biggest division lead and are the most guaranteed to make the playoffs, so they may ease up a bit.

Of course, at this point, the big issue is just making it to the playoffs.  As the first chart shows, the Phillies are almost equally likely to miss the playoffs as they are to have the best record in the NL.  However, if they do get the best record in the NL, they get homefield advantage throughout (as the NL won the All-Star game this year).

For a team that's 12-5 at home in the playoffs in the past three years, that could be huge.

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