The Phillies are not favored to be a playoff team in 2014. This is no secret.
But hope springs eternal and, right now, there is hope that the top three of the rotation is good enough, that the Phils' bullpen has enough hard throwers (aside from the "Velocity Dippers," a.k.a. Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon), and the veteran position players will rebound, to at least offer a scant amount of hope.
If this team is going to fight for a playoff spot in 2014, one way to do that will be to get off to a fast start. And luckily, the Phils' early season schedule has them set up to potentially do just that.
As noted by ESPN's Buster Olney earlier this week, the Phillies have the National League's 4th easiest schedule during the first 40 games of the season. Only Los Angeles, Arizona and Atlanta have easier schedules through the first 40 games.
Only 17 of the team's first 40 games are against teams that finished .500 or better last year, and 19 of their first 40 games are at home. Also...
On the face of it, the Phillies would appear to have an early opportunity, because they don't see the NL Central powers until mid-May, and have only seven games against Atlanta and Washington among those first 40. This could help Philadelphia start quickly.
Now, strength of schedule can sometimes be misleading, because there are always "bad" teams that end up playing well and "good" teams that actually turn out to be lousy once the games begin. That said, here is who the Phillies face in their first 40.
Games 1-3: at Texas Rangers (91-72, .558)
Games 4-6: at Chicago Cubs (66-96, .407)
Games 7-9: Milwaukee Brewers (74-88, .457)
Games 10-12: Miami Marlins (62-100, .383)
Games 13-16: Atlanta Braves (96-66, .593)
Games 17-19: at Colorado Rockies (74-88, .457)
Games 20-23: at L.A. Dodgers (92-70, .568)
Games 24-26: at Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81, .500)
Games 27-28: NY Mets (74-88, .457)
Games 29-31: Washington Nationals (86-76, .531)
Games 32-33: Toronto Blue Jays (74-88, .457)
Games 34-35: at Toronto Blue Jays (74-88, .457)
Games 36-38: at NY Mets (74-88, .457)
Games 39-40: Anaheim Angels (78-84, .481)
As you can see, the Phillies only play the Braves and the Nationals once each in the first 40 games and do not have to play the Cardinals, Pirates or Reds at all in that stretch.
As for the rest of the NL East's early-season schedules, the Mets have the 4th-toughest through the first 40 games, with 19 of their first 22 against teams who were .500 or better last year. Washington's is the 9th-toughest, and Miami's is the 10th-hardest.
Atlanta, however, has the easiest early-season schedule out of any NL East team, which doesn't seem quite fair does it? The reason for that is they don't have to play themselves, and the rest of the NL East does. Just 12 of the Braves' first 40 games are against teams that finished last year with a .500 record or better.
So given all this, what do the Phillies need to do in these first 40 games? Is 25 wins too tall a task? Probably, especially when you consider that the 2011 Phils (you know, the one that won a franchise-record 102 baseball games) had that record after their first 40 games.
Perhaps the ceiling is something like 22-18 or something like that. Even being four games over .500 after 40 would at least keep the team in the conversation as the season kicks into high gear.
Whatever the record ends up being, it's hard to see the Phillies going to the playoffs this year if they don't get off to a good start.
Luckily, they have a schedule that could allow them to do so.
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