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Race to the Bottom: Phillies hanging onto 9th place

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For the first time in a while, the third overall pick next season is within reasonable striking distance for the Phillies.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

That was an ugly week for the Phillies. They were swept by the Nationals and split a four-game series against the Pirates.

There was certainly hope in the Pirates series, with decent to good pitching from all of the starting pitchers, but there's no way you can come away from those four games with anything but a sense of futility after what the team did in the late innings last night. I know it shouldn't matter one bit, but that 8-spot the Pirates posted in the ninth was just horrendous.

But then again, at this point in yet another lost season, what we really should care about, when we put aside this base desire all fans have to win games, is the Race to the Bottom. And for the Phillies, this was a pretty good week in the Race.

When we first started following the bottom-of-the-heap standings, the Phillies were in 10th place. They were 10.5 games out of first and 5 games out of a big lump of teams vying for third. They made some progress last week, moving up to a tie for 9th place, but they still had a long way to go to really move up - falling a bit to 5.5 games out of third.

This week is a different story.  Thanks to the Phillies posting the second worst record of all the bottom-feeding teams (second to the Angels' 1-6 week) along with the Reds having an incredible 5-1 run, the Phils now have sole possession of 9th place. But even better - they are only 2.5 games out of 3rd.

Here's the Race to the Bottom standings with just over two weeks left in the season:

race3

Once again, barring the Phillies going on a real hot streak and the Rockies and White Sox flailing, the Phillies are pretty safe in terms of not falling out of the top 10 and losing their protected pick.

There's much more good news here though than just being even safer with respect to the protected pick.  What Phillies fans really should be focusing on is that super narrow gap between the Diamondbacks and Padres, both at 7.5 games out of last place, and the Phillies, now at 10 games back.  There are 7 teams packed together with just 2.5 games separating them.

Again, one of the basic truisms of baseball standings is that it's much easier to gain 2.5 games on 1 team than it is on multiple teams, so the Phillies still have a huge uphill challenge here. But, they nonetheless have a smaller challenge than they did just a week ago when there were more than double the games separating them from third place.

In other words, for the first time in a while, the third overall pick next season is within reasonable striking distance for the Phillies.

The good news here is that the Phillies have a tough-ish schedule coming up this week. They have games against teams that are all better than them. All of those teams are not among the MLB elite though.  They have three games against the Marlins, two against the White Sox, and one against the Mets (the start of a four-game series next weekend).  Breaking even will be tough for the Phillies, but I a 1-5 or 0-6 streak is even less likely.

The real problem for the Phils is that almost all of the other teams in the 3 to 10 bunch (including the Brewers who are one game behind the Phils) have tougher schedules. Only the Padres have an obviously easier schedule - facing the Rockies and the Diamondbacks this week.

Every other team bunched with the Phils has at least one, if not two, elite opponents coming up:

Diamondbacks: Dodgers and Padres

Reds: Pirates and Cubs

Angels: Blue Jays and Rangers

Rays: Orioles and Yankees

Athletics: Rangers and Astros

Brewers: Cubs and Pirates

This tougher schedule for the Phils' competitors will make this a very challenging week in the Race to the Bottom. It's hard to see the Phillies moving up too much if at all.

However, with how terrible the Phils offense has been (now 36 runs behind the next-worst team!) and just how all around lackluster the team's performance has been overall, anything is possible here.