At the trade deadline the Phillies dealt two-thirds of its starting outfield to the NL West, trading Hunter Pence to the Giants and Shane Victorino to the Dodgers. The team quickly followed those transactions by sending Joe Blanton to the Dodgers, as well. The Phillies received almost nothing of current big league value in return. At the same time, the Brewers dealt ace Zack Greinke to the Angels for current rookie shortstop Jean Segura and two minor league pitchers. Since the trade deadline the only other team to come close to improving its win percentage by as much as the Phillies and Brewers in that time span is the Padres, who have quietly turned a terrible start into a respectable season. The resurgence of these two teams in the playoff hunt is no fluke, either–the Phillies and Brewers rank 7th and 1st, respectively in hitter WAR and 4th and 8th in pitcher WAR in the last 30 days.
The cynic that I am led me to surmise that strength of schedule must be driving at least part of each team’s resurgence. Winning is a lot easier when you get to play the Cubs and the new (and not improved) post-deadline Marlins. A cursory glance at each team’s schedule since July 1st makes it abundantly obvious that the Brewers have had an easy road to contention, but the same cannot be said for the Phillies, and the overall story is much more complicated than that.
The Phillies have gone 28-19, with 21 of those games coming agains the Braves, Nationals, Cardinals, or Reds–three certain playoff teams, and, of course, we are crossing our fingers for a fourth. The Phillies have certainly held its own against these opponents, going 11-10, but the team has gained ground by being efficient against the league’s cellar dwellers. It is 13-6 against the combination of the Marlins, Rockies, Astros and Mets in the few opportunities it has had to beat up on weak teams. Those 13 wins account for almost half of the Phillies’ wins over the post-deadline period.
The Brewers have been blessed with 28 games against the Astros, Rockies, Cubs, Pirates, Marlins, and Mets. The team has certainly taken advantage, going 18-10, but really this record is driven by a 14-2 record against the plummeting Pirates and young Cubs. The Brewers have split with Houston and Miami and were swept in the one series with Colorado. While beating up on lesser opponents has played a large part in the team’s resurgence, it has held its own against the strong teams it has faced, going 8-4 against the Cardinals, Reds, and Braves, a run fueled by sweeps of both the Reds and Braves. In some ways one could argue that despite a much easier schedule, strength of schedule has played less of a role in the Brewers surge toward playoff contention.
Philly beat Atlanta on Friday night (against whom it was 1-5 in its last six games) and has two more against the Braves and six against the Nationals, of the remaining eleven games. The Brewers lost the first of a four game series with the Nationals and follow that series up with three against Cincinnati, so neither team has an easy road to catch the Cards. While this definitely bodes well for the Redbirds and the absence of Pittsburgh and Chicago from the Brewers remaining schedule is a breath of fresh air, it can’t be assumed that this means a return to the pre-trade deadline Brewers or Phillies. Despite very different strengths of schedule, each team has made a remarkable run in the last month-and-a-half by not only being efficient against poor competition, but also holding its own against those teams it is hoping to face again in October.