What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?
If you’re like most, you want to get the negative energy out of the way first. So here it is: The Phillies have a significantly tougher second-half schedule than the Braves and Nationals. The Phils have fewer home games than both teams, and face way more winning opponents.
Of the Phillies’ remaining 66 games, 34 are at home and 32 are on the road. The Braves have 35 of 67 at home and the Nats play 36 of 67 in D.C.
One or two more home games ... no big deal. What is a big deal is the number of games each team has against clubs over .500. The Phillies have 34 of them -- 10 more than Washington and 15 more than Atlanta.
The tough schedule starts immediately for the Phillies, who begin the second half with a nine-game road trip through New York, St. Louis and Detroit. They’ll face Matt Harvey Sunday, and then take on two World Series favorites in the Cardinals and Tigers. The Cards and Tigers have won 61.5 percent of their home games, and rank first and third, respectively, in run differential.
That stretch could very well make or break the season. Say the Phillies falter and go 3-6, they’ll be 51-54 through 105 games, several games under .500 for the umpteenth time this season. Luckily for the Phils, the Nationals’ first seven games are against the red-hot Dodgers and the Pirates. The Braves, meanwhile, play their first seven against the White Sox and Mets.
Now, the good news: A major reason the Phils have so many more games than the Braves and Nationals against teams over .500 is that they play the Braves and Nationals so often. The Phillies have 13 games left with the Braves and nine with the Nats. In August, they’ll see Atlanta twice and Washington once. In September, they have two series with each team.
The Phils held their own against their two division rivals in the first half, compiling a 9-7 record. The bats did the work against the Braves and the arms kept the Nationals off base.
In a small sample, the Phillies hit .271/.314/.420 against the Braves for a .734 OPS, 20 points higher than their season mark.
Against the Nats, the Phillies had a 3.30 ERA. Their starting pitchers held Washington to a .235 batting average in 10 games, and the staff overall limited the Nats to a .290 OBP and just 3.6 runs per game.
If nothing else, the Phillies showed in the first half that their strengths match up well with these two teams. And, really, all three teams have performed the same way since the third week of the season.
The Braves started the year 12-1. They’re 42-40 since. The Phillies in that span are 42-41. The Nationals are 40-42.
While one response to that may be, “Yeah, well the first two weeks of the season did count,” keep in mind that the Braves’ pitching was unsustainably hot early in the year.
Mike Minor had a 2.47 ERA through the end of May. It’s 3.83 since.
Kris Medlen had a 3.48 ERA through the end of May. It’s 3.86 since.
Paul Maholm? A 3.74 ERA as of June 1 and a 4.31 ERA since.
As far as injuries go, all three teams have dealt with demoralizing ones, eliminating that excuse for each NL East contender.
The Phillies lost Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Ben Revere and Mike Adams, and played much of the first half without Carlos Ruiz.
The Braves lost two of their three relief aces –- Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty –- for the season. Everyone else has remained healthy, though, until recently, when B.J. Upton hit the DL, Justin Upton strained his calf and Freddie Freeman’s sore thumb kept him out of the All-Star Game. Freeman is expected back this weekend.
The Nationals have had injuries all over the place -– Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Wilson Ramos have all spent time on the DL.
Really, these three teams are very close in talent. And with all the meetings in September and a four-game series in Atlanta to end the season, the NL East race could very well come down to Sept. 29.