Braves and Phillies Battling for NL East Title and Playoff Spot
While the Nationals fell seven games off the pace following back-to-back walk-off home run losses, the Braves and Phillies continue to push for the playoffs atop the NL East. The Braves (66-51) lead the Phillies (65-52) by 1-game after Atlanta swept a double-header against the last place Miami Marlins. Those victories improved the Braves to a NL-best 19-units of profit in the betting market. The next most profitable National League team this season is the Phillies (+13).
Looking at the leaders in the playoff chase in both leagues, the Braves and/or Phillies are going to be the newcomers in this year’s playoffs. If the playoffs started today, Philadelphia would secure the second wild card spot and play at Milwaukee, another potential playoff newcomer. Last year’s National League division winners were Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. The wild card teams were Arizona and Colorado. Four of those teams are strong challengers in this year’s playoff chase with the Chicago Cubs (68-49) currently leading the Brewers (67-54) by 3-games in the NL Central and Arizona (65-55) 1-game in front of both Colorado (63-55) and Los Angeles (64-56).
The American League will have at least four teams returning to the playoffs this year with Boston (85-35) setting records and now and amazing 50 games over .500 and a MLB-best 32-units of profit produced. Defending World Series champions Houston (73-46) are just two games ahead of the surprising Oakland A’s (71-48), who are trying to become the surprise playoff entrant in the American League. The A’s 28-units of profit is No. 2 in baseball, and Seattle (69-51) is back in the AL-West chase and wild card hunt after sweeping the Astros 4-straight in Houston. The Mariners +13 units of profit is currently No. 4 overall in baseball. The Cleveland Indians (67-51) will join Boston and Houston as repeat AL division winners if all three hold on, and the NY Yankees (74-44) will likely return to the playoffs as a wild card again. The Yankees currently have the second-best record in baseball, yet are 10 full games behind NL-East leading Boston.
Prior to the season, the sports books had seven teams with season over/under win totals greater than 90. The top two were the LA Dodgers (96.5) and Houston Astros (96.5), who played in last year’s World Series. The other five were the NY Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals. Six of those teams look like they will return to the playoffs, but the Nationals have suffered with cohesion and leadership issues this season and are now trying to overcome letdown and a pair of devastating losses after walk-off home runs by the Cubs and Cardinals nailed the Nationals the last two days. The Nationals are now a MLB-worst 11-21 in 1-run games this season, which is another reason why they are under-performing in a disappointing season for Nationals fans and Washington bettors.
In projecting playoff participation, 87 wins is the benchmark. Since the two wild card format was put into place for the 2012 season, 87 wins has been the best line of demarcation for making the postseason. In that span, 63 teams have won at least 87 games, and 59 have made the playoffs.
The Nationals would have to go 27-16 the rest of the season – a .628 clip – to reach 87 wins. Washington would need Atlanta (21-24) and Philadelphia (22-23) to play less than .500 baseball to also finish with no more than 87 wins.
The Braves have been consistent both home (32-24) and away (34-27), while dominating their NL East opponents (38-19). Atlanta ranks No. 2 in hitting (.261) in the NL and the Braves pitching ERA of 3.80 ranks No. 5 and just behind the Phillies (2.75 ERA). Atlanta’s pitching staff has allowed opponents to hit just .233 to tie the LA Dodgers for best BAA in the National League.
The Phillies have the best home record (38-18) in the National League, but Philadelphia is just 27-34 on the road and 22-21 against division foes. They remain in the NL East race despite a team batting average of just .235 – second worst in all of baseball. The Phillies rank No. 13 in the NL for runs scored on the road (3.9) and 15th in slugging percentage (.371) on the road. In Philadelphia’s most recent 11 road games, they have won just three times while scoring 25 runs (2.3/game). The Phillies were also shutout three times in that stretch, and when facing elite pitchers you might want to fade or pass on the Phillies, even at home. Note the increased home runs this season at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia when handicapping Phillies games and consider more scoring when sub-par pitchers take the mound at Philadelphia.
2018 HR increase by ballpark
- Cincinnati 35.2%
- Philadelphia 35.1%
- Texas 31.4%
- Washington 26.7%
- Milwaukee 20.0%
The Braves and Phillies will likely decide the NL East the final 11 days of the regular season when those two rivals play four games at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, and conclude the regular season with three games at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
The Nationals do play the Phillies nine more times this season with six of those games on the road. Washington also plays at Atlanta three times. The odds are clearly against the Nationals reaching the postseason, and we’ll have a new playoff entrant from the NL East this season with the Braves the slight favorite to hold off the Phillies.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay