It's the time of year when fans are watching the standings. In the NL, it's clear the Nationals and Cubs are going to make the playoffs, as they both have substantial leads in their divisions. The Dodgers lead the West, but only by 2 games over the Giants. The Giants lead the wild card race, but only by 1.5 games over the Cardinals, which means the Dodgers could conceivably fall back into the wild card race, and even out of it, since only 3.5 games separate them from the Cardinals and another 2 games to the Mets. Beyond that, the Pirates, Marlins, and even Rockies are within striking distance.
In other words, for fans of 9 of the 15 NL franchises, this last month of play is going to be either clear preparation for the post-season or exciting as their team tries to find a way to get there. There's a very similar situation in the AL as well, with 9 teams having either clearly clinched a playoff spot or having a real chance.
Unfortunately, but as we all knew would happen, the Phillies are not in the mix with these 18 teams. Rather, the Phillies are with the remaining 12 teams that have no chance. In this situation, the wild card standings that are printed in the newspaper every day and found all over the internet are irrelevant. What matters instead are the standings printed here:
The Phillies are currently in 10th place in the race to the bottom, which would give them the 10th pick in the 2017 draft. The 10th pick is a special pick, as it's the last protected pick, meaning the team would not forfeit the pick if it signs a free agent who has rejected a qualifying offer from his old team.
With this set of standings, we can see the best and worst case scenarios for the Phillies when it comes to the 2017 draft (all other teams in baseball are at .500 or higher, so it's hard to see the Phillies reaching into that realm). The worst case scenario, in terms of next year's draft, is that they play really good ball over the last month while the White Sox and Rockies tank, putting the Phillies in 12th place and dropping them into the territory of unprotected picks.
The best case scenario is more fun to think about (if you can stomach the losing over the next month, but I'm assuming we can since we've gotten this far into the season with our beloved team). The Braves and the Twins seem to be in a league of their own this year, so it's hard to see the Phillies gaining (losing?) 10.5 games on them in the last month. I think it's fair to say those two teams are going to have the first and second draft picks in 2017.
But how high (low?) can the Phillies climb on this list? There are 8 teams that are separated by only 5 games. The difference between the worst of those teams (the Padres) and the best of those teams (the Phillies) is the difference between the 3rd and the 10th pick in the draft. Needless to say, that's a huge difference, one that can drastically change the Phillies' chances of finding a difference-maker next year.
Just like trying to leapfrong a lot of teams to get to the top of the standings is tough, leapfrogging a lot of teams to get toward the bottom is also difficult. It would require the Phillies to play much worse than 7 other teams, who are, like the Phillies, bad teams. So, it's hard, though not impossible, to imagine a situation where the Phillies get to the third pick.
But, moving up a few slots, say into the 6 to 8 range, is completely feasible. What can give a fan "hope" about the team doing so is the last column in the standings above. The Phillies are actually the second worst team in run differential in all of baseball. In other words, unlike the teams immediately above (below?) them in these standings, the Phillies have been more successful than they really should be. If the last month shows a similar run differential for these teams, maybe the Phillies can rise (fall?) in this race to the bottom.
I'll update this over the coming weeks, but given where the team is, for better or worse, these standings are where our excitement lies for the last month of the season.