ROUGH ROAD AHEAD
Pirates: The Bucs closed out the first half in style with three straight victories over the division-leading Cardinals, but their quest for their first National League Central crown won't come easy. Not only do the Pirates' remaining opponents have a combined .510 winning percentage -- the highest among any NL team with a winning record -- but Pittsburgh still has a league-high 41 road games remaining on its schedule. The Bucs will face an especially difficult test from Aug. 3-16 when they play 12 straight games against fellow NL contenders. They begin that stretch by hosting the Cubs and the Dodgers for three games each, before hitting the road for three-game series against both the Cards and Mets.
Orioles: The O's stumbled into the All-Star break, winning just two of their last 10 games -- and things won't get any easier on the other side of the layoff. Baltimore kicks off the second half with a nine-game road trip, beginning with three games in Detroit and followed by three games each against the Yankees and the Rays, the two teams they're currently chasing in the American League East.
In fact, 18 of the Orioles' first 25 games in the second half will be played on the road, capped off by the dreaded West Coast swing, with nine games against the A's, Angels and Mariners from Aug. 3-12.
Giants: Don't be fooled by the fact that San Francisco starts the second half with 18 straight games against teams with losing records. While that part of the schedule may seem favorable, the rest more than makes up for it. Following that 18-game stretch, the Giants will play 26 consecutive games against teams currently in line for a postseason spot.
Twins: Minnesota's remaining opponents have a combined .511 winning percentage, the highest among any team that currently has a winning record. The most grueling stretch for the Twins comes during a 16-game stretch beginning on Sept. 4. That's the day that Minnesota begins a nine-game road trip, starting with three games against the Astros followed by three against the division-leading Royals.
Tigers: Speaking of those reigning division champions, Detroit's path to a second-half turnaround -- and a fifth straight AL Central title -- is a relatively tough one. The Tigers' remaining opponents have a whopping .514 combined winning percentage, highest among all teams with a non-losing record.
The most difficult stretch for Detroit comes in mid-August, when it embarks on an eight-game road trip -- three games against Kansas City, three against Houston and two against the Cubs. The one potential bright spot for the Tigers is that they will have plenty of chances to gain ground on the Royals, as they still have 12 games remaining against the current division leaders.
Mets: The Mets' first 10 games out of the break will come against the Cardinals, Nationals and Dodgers -- each of the three NL division leaders. If they survive that brutal run, however, things will get markedly easier the rest of the way, as evidenced by their second-half opponents' .476 combined winning percentage. That mark is the third lowest among all Major League clubs, behind only the Marlins (.474) and Padres (.472).
Nationals: Don't get too excited though, Mets fans, as the division-leading Nats sport a similarly favorable second-half schedule. The Nationals not only check in just one spot behind the Mets when it comes to remaining opponents' combined winning percentage (.480), but they also have 40 more home games compared to just 35 on the road. By comparison, the Mets play 35 home games and 38 road contests.
The Nats and Mets will meet for three games in D.C. from Sept. 7-9, then finish the season with another three-game set at Citi Field from Oct. 2-4.
Cardinals: Nobody expected dethroning the Cards in the NL Central to be an easy task and the second-half schedules certainly won't help anyone's cause. St. Louis' remaining opponents have only a .491 combined percentage -- and the Cardinals will play 39 more games at Busch Stadium, compared to just 34 on the road.
Cubs: The Cubs may sit eight games back in the NL Central, but they're clinging to the second NL Wild Card spot coming out of the All-Star break -- and the schedule shakes out pretty well in their favor the rest of the way. Unlike the fellow postseason-hopeful Giants and Pirates, the Cubs have a relatively favorable second-half schedule, with their opponents combining for only a .484 winning percentage.
The difference in strength of schedule will be noticeable immediately out of the break, as the Cubs begin the second half with 17 consecutive games against teams with losing records.
Yankees: Strictly from a scheduling standpoint, the Yanks look to have good odds to break free of the AL East logjam. In their first 35 games coming out of the break, the Yankees will play only one team with a winning record. That lone club is the upstart Twins, whom they will face three times at Target Field from July 24-26 and three more times at Yankee Stadium from Aug. 17-19. Going even further, just 18 of New York's 74 second-half games come against teams that currently have winning records.
AL WEST: You may have noticed a lack of any AL West clubs in either of the above categories. This comes as a result of there being almost no separation, on paper at least, between the Angels and Astros -- or any of the five teams in the division, for that matter.
The Angels will play 38 home games and 36 road games against opponents with a .504 combined winning percentage, while the Astros will play 37 home games and 34 road games against opponents with a .503 combined winning percentage. As for the others, the Rangers (.503, 39 home/35 away) and A's (.505, 37/34) have similar slates, while the Mariners benefit from a slightly easier schedule (.497 opponents' winning percentage), but play more games on the road (39) than at home (34).