We talk about it all the time in football and basketball. In major college sports, it helps determine who makes the postseason tournaments. Rarely is it mentioned in Major League Baseball. I’m talking about strength of schedule. It matters, and it affects the playoff races.
Let’s start with the less intriguing American League. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Orioles are all within three games at the top of the AL East. Strength of schedule won’t factor into that race. Their remaining opponents’ winning percentages are identical (51 percent) and they have several series left against each other. Boston and Baltimore are leading for the two wild card spots, but Detroit, which is just one game back of the second spot, has a more favorable remaining schedule. Here’s the complete list, courtesy of PlayoffPush.com, with the more difficult schedules on top:
Strength of schedule should have a bigger impact in the National League. The Cubs and Nationals have all but clinched their divisions, but the Giants have a far easier remaining slate than the West-leading Dodgers. Let’s look at the wild card race. Who has the easiest remaining schedule in all of baseball? The Mets, who are one game ahead of Miami, tied with Pittsburgh, and one game back of St. Louis for the second wild card spot.
The Mets have six left against Washington, but 19 against Atlanta (34 games under .500 entering Wednesday), Minnesota (also 34 under), Cincinnati (21), and Philadelphia (12). New York’s other remaining games are against Miami, a team they’ve handled so far this season (winning 9 of 14). The Cards have the Reds and equally weak Brewers on their schedule, but also the Pirates, Cubs, and Giants. Last year the Mets feasted on the weaker teams to get to the postseason. They hope they can do the same this September.
Baseball is a sport where an incredible season (100 wins) still equates to just a .617 win percentage, much lower than the best teams in football and basketball. Things tend to even out over 162 games, and the nature of the sport makes it difficult to dominate. Still, as the calendar turns to September and the playoff hunt winds down, strength of schedule may be the difference.