Not all remaining slates are equal for MLB's postseason hopefuls
By Paul Casella
With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the true postseason contenders are beginning to come into focus.
However, a few contenders may find it easier than others to create some separation from fellow postseason hopefuls. After all, some clubs have already navigated the most difficult portions of their 162-game schedule, while others have yet to do so.
Though these American League and National League postseason races will obviously be decided on the field, here's a look at which teams have the most favorable remaining schedules among the 18 clubs that were within five games of a postseason spot entering play Friday (in the AL Central, the Royals and Twins are separated by 9 1/2 games).
The Yankees and Blue Jays open a three-game set on Friday, marking the first of 13 remaining games between the two clubs. Those 13 games -- six of which will come in the next 10 days -- figure to play the key role in deciding this division. However, while neither team has a decisively easier schedule outside of those head-to-head meetings, it is worth noting that the Yanks have an AL-most 31 home games remaining, while the Jays will play 28 of their final 52 on the road.
The suddenly red-hot Rangers have not only climbed to within 5 1/2 games of the division-leading Astros, but they also have the most favorable remaining schedule among those vying for the AL West crown. Though the division has seemingly been a two-team race between the Angels and Astros for much of the season, the Rangers are poised to make some noise down the stretch. Of the three clubs, Texas is the only one with more remaining games at home than on the road, not to mention its remaining opponents also have the lowest combined winning percentage of the trio.
The Angels have the most difficult remaining schedule of the three, including finishing the season with a four-game set in Arlington against the Rangers, while the Astros close the season against the D-backs. Also worth noting is the fact that Houston -- losers of 12 of its past 14 road games -- plays 27 of its final 52 games away from Minute Maid Park, including six straight to close the season.
Neither the Mets nor the Nationals have a very daunting remaining schedule. That said, the Nats have 12 games left against teams that are currently above .500 (including 10 on the road), while the Mets will play just eight games against teams with a winning record -- and only two of those will come away from Citi Field. That Nationals kick off a 10-game road trip on Monday that includes three games against the Dodgers followed by four against the Giants. They also play a three-game series in St. Louis beginning on Aug. 31, while the Mets' only road series against a winning team is a two-game set against the Orioles on Aug. 18-19.
The Cardinals not only hold a six-game lead in the NL Central, but they also have a slightly more favorable remaining schedule than either the Pirates or Cubs. St. Louis' remaining opponents have a .495 combined winning percentage, while Pittsburgh's opponents sport a .509 winning percentage and Chicago's check in at .503. More importantly, however, is the fact that six of the nine remaining head-to-head meetings between the Cards and Bucs will be played at Busch Stadium.
The Giants on Thursday night began one of the toughest stretches that any team will play at any point this season. San Francisco's 5-4 loss to the Cubs marked the club's first of 26 straight games against teams with winning records. The Giants' next game against a team currently below .500 won't come until Sept. 3, when they open a four-game set in Colorado. The Dodgers don't exactly have an easy road ahead either, but they figure to benefit from a combined nine games against the Reds and A's during that same span.
AL Wild Card
As mentioned in the AL West breakdown, the Rangers have one of the easier remaining schedules of any team. They not only play more games at home than on the road, but their combined opponents' winning percentage is just .494. They have the biggest edge of any of the clubs currently battling for the AL Wild Card, while the Astros check in with possibly the next most favorable schedule. If one of those teams were to win the AL West, the next biggest advantage, schedule-wise, would go to either the Yankees or Blue Jays. Teams such as the Angels, Orioles, Twins, Rays, Tigers and White Sox have relatively more difficult paths to the postseason.
Advantage: Astros/Rangers and Blue Jays/Yankees
NL Wild Card
The Mets and Nationals clearly have the easiest remaining schedules of any contending teams in either league, meaning whichever one doesn't win the NL East will at least have an upper-hand in the NL Wild Card race. As for the second NL Wild Card spot, the Cubs appear to have an inside edge from a scheduling standpoint. Chicago will play the Pirates and Cardinals just six more times each, while the Bucs and Cards will beat up on one another nine more times. That includes the Pirates hosting the Cardinals for their penultimate series of the season, while the Cubs' final six games will come against NL Central bottom-feeders Cincinnati and Milwaukee. The NL East and NL Central contenders all have seemingly easier paths to the postseason than the aforementioned brutal schedules awaiting the Giants and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Dodgers.
Advantage: Mets/Nationals and Cubs
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.