The Impact of Remaining Strength of Schedule

Yesterday, Jeff noted in his post on the Brewers that one “could write thousands of words on the varying strengths of remaining schedules for the wild-card contenders.” He then proceeded to write three sentences, so apparently he meant someone else could write thousands of words on the the remaining schedules of wild-card contenders. Maybe if the remaining schedule could somehow have been GIFed, he would have been more interested? Anyway, I’m here to do the work that he decided to take a pass on.

With the Phillies and Brewers recent surges, the NL Wild Card race has gotten pretty interesting. The Braves basically have one of the two spots locked up, but who they’ll be playing is an open question. St. Louis and Los Angeles still seem like the best bets, but the Pirates, Phillies, Brewers, and even the Diamondbacks could sneak into the play-in game if they play really well down the stretch and get some help from the teams they’re chasing. In a race this tight, quality of opposition could make a significant difference, so let’s take a look at the slate of games left for each club, going in order of current standing.

St. Louis Cardinals

@ LAD (4)
Off
Vs HOU (3)
@ CHC (3)
@ HOU (3)
Off
Vs WAS (3)
Vs CIN (3)

Weighted Average Opponents Win%: .464

When half of your remaining games are against the Astros and Cubs, there’s reason to celebrate. When you get off days on both sides of those series, it’s even better. The Cardinals could hardly ask for a better draw, with their two toughest match-ups coming in the final week of the season against teams who will likely have little to play for. The unwritten rules of baseball suggest that Washington and Cincinnati won’t just pack it in out of fairness to the other team’s in the Wild Card race, but they’re certainly not going to push guys with some aches and pains to play through it, and the Reds will be lining up their rotation for the playoffs and making sure their bullpen is well rested going into the postseason. The series against the Dodgers starting tonight is crucial – if they win three of four, they could set themselves up for a really strong finish that would make it difficult for anyone to gain much ground.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Vs STL (4)
Off
@ WAS (3)
@ CIN (3)
Off
@ SD (3)
Vs COL (3)
Vs SFG (3)

Weighted Average Opponents Win%: .532

If the Dodgers are going to get into the playoffs, they’re going to earn it. This isn’t just the hardest remaining schedule of any team in the wild card hunt, this may be the hardest remaining schedule of any team in baseball. Their next 10 games are all against current playoff teams, then they travel to play a Padres team that is playing pretty well in the second half. If they play well and put themselves in position to get a wild card spot, it’s quite possible that they’ll have also gained enough ground on SF to make that last series meaningful, and that the Giants won’t be tapping on the breaks in the final three games of the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Off
@ CHC (4)
Vs MIL (3)
@ HOU (3)
@ NYM (4)
Vs CIN (3)
VS ATL (3)

Weighted Average Opponents Win%: .467

I hope the Pirates enjoy their day off today, because it’s their last one of the season. They finish with 20 games in 20 days, which offsets some of their weak opponents to some degree. 11 games against the Astros, Cubs, and Mets is a nice little gift, but they’re all on the road, so they might not be quite as easy of wins as you’d expect. They also don’t have any games left with the Cardinals or Dodgers, so they’re heavily dependent on other teams playing spoiler in order to help them make up ground. If they can take care of business against some bad opponents on the road, they still have a shot at this thing, but it’s going to take a quick turnaround starting tomorrow.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vs HOU (4)
@ NYM (3)
Off
Vs ATL (3)
Vs WAS (3)
@ MIA (3)
@ WAS (3)

Weighted Average Opponents Win%: .493

This schedule is probably a little bit easier than the overall winning percentage suggests, since that’s pulled up by six games against the Nationals who won’t have much to play for when those games happen. Especially in that final series, the Phillies could be playing a less-than-full-strength squad as Washington readies itself for the division series games. Given their recent surge and their four games against Houston beginning tonight, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Phillies are only a game or two out of playoff position starting next week. If the Cardinals aren’t the favorites for the final wild card spot right now, the Phillies just might be.

Milwaukee Brewers

Off
Vs NYM (3)
Off
@ PIT (3)
@ WAS (4)
@ CIN (3)
Vs HOU (3)
vs SD (3)

Weighted Average Opponents Win%: .504

Their schedule is marginally tougher than the other non-LAD contenders, mostly because they have that extra game with Washington and don’t have any games left with the Cubs. Finishing with 16 straight games also isn’t any kind of gift. Jeff’s right – the Brewers have probably gotten close enough to regret all those early season blown saves, but this is a tough climb, even for a team that seems to be hitting its stride. Their toughest games are on the road, they play the Nationals and Reds while the games still theoretically mean something, and they don’t get another day off after Monday. Their hot streak is probably in jeopardy after this weekend.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Off
Vs SFG (3)
Off
Vs SD (3)
@ COL (4)
@ SFG (3)
Vs CHC (3)
Vs COL (3)

Weighted Average Opponents Win%: .468

They don’t get the pleasure of beating up on the Astros, but six games against Colorado might be even better. The Giants are the only winning team they play the rest of the way, but that also means that they don’t have a chance to gain ground on other wild card teams by beating them head to head. They’re also the furthest back in the race, and even though they’re only one game behind Philadelphia and Milwaukee, one game at this point is a pretty big deal. Those six straight losses to the Reds and Padres at the end of August might have just dug the hole a little too deep for Arizona to come back from, even with a pretty soft schedule down the stretch.

Based on remaining opponents and overall team quality, I’d make the Cardinals the favorites, with Philadelphia and Los Angeles just behind them, and then the Brewers, Pirates, and Diamondbacks on the outside looking in. But, this is exactly the kind of scenario that Bud Selig was hoping for when he pushed for an additional wild card entry, and the final few weeks of baseball in the NL should be pretty fun to watch.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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cya
Guest
cya
3 years 10 months ago

I’m loving this 2nd wild card so much right now.

Tim_the_Beaver
Member
Tim_the_Beaver
3 years 10 months ago

2nd wild card certainly is adding some intrigue right now. I still don’t feel great about the scenario of a team with a great record losing to a team with an ok record in a 1 game playoff. Seems a little cheap after such a long season.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker
3 years 10 months ago

But at least in that scenario the team with the great record losing in the one game playoff would also be a wild card, not a division winner.

People said that they wanted more teams to be in it, but also for the division to mean something and to avoid having so many Wild Cards win the World Series. This new design was pretty much the only way to solve those seemingly contradictory desires.

rageon
Guest
rageon
3 years 10 months ago

I agree with the concerns about the 1 game play-in game, but I think I’d take the current system over the prior one.

I’m starting to think a perfect system would have a 3-game playoff between the 2 wild-card teams, but delaying things 3 days appears to be a non-starter (and it’s unlikely they would even do it in 3 days). Perhaps a 2-day playoff, with the first day a double-header and all the games taking place at the stadium of the team with the better record?? I could totally get into that.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
3 years 10 months ago

Team with a great record losing to a team with an okay record? If Atlanta wins the WC by 6 games, that’s 1 more game a month. An injury, a lucky break in the schedule say playing a team when they’re hurt instead of hot, etc could all account for that. I don’t think people realize how little variance there is in the quality of playoff teams this late in the season with all the trades and other variables. That’s why the playoffs are a crapshoot.

FredMertz65
Guest
FredMertz65
3 years 10 months ago

Got to say the basis for the predictive analysis is thin. a deterministic evaluation is better at first.

All said, if it was just math they would not need to suit up and play the game. San Diego and Colorado are stronger now then a few months ago so there needs to be a factor in there.

nik
Guest
nik
3 years 10 months ago

You could say the Cardinals had an easy matchup in SD and look what happened. Schedule is overrated, the bottom dweller teams just love getting up to play spoiler, especially against teams in their own division.

Schlom
Guest
Schlom
3 years 10 months ago

The Padres are now 21-7 at home after the ASB, I’m not sure that was really an easy series.

Kyle
Member
3 years 10 months ago

This post had a really great introduction.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 10 months ago

“Maybe if the remaining schedule could somehow have been GIFed, he would have been more interested?”

Best fangraphs line ever!

Chris from Bothell
Guest
Chris from Bothell
3 years 10 months ago

That whole first paragraph is quite possibly the funniest thing Cameron’s ever written. And he’s gotten some good one-liners in the FG chats lately. Fantastic.

Will H.
Guest
Will H.
3 years 10 months ago

You could be right about the Nats, but if they are anything like their fans there is strong motivation to keep the Phillies and their fans out of the post season.

jorgath
Guest
jorgath
3 years 10 months ago

Jayson Werth is definitely in favor of that. Besides, out of the above teams, the Nats would probably rather face the Cards or the Brewers if Atlanta happens to lose in the WC round.

Hunter
Guest
Hunter
3 years 10 months ago

Davey Johnson is also going to want to “play the game the right way” and not gift any team a wild card berth. Sure, he might not have Clippard out there for a five out save, or have Gio throwing 120 pitches, but he’s going to trot out a regular-ish lineup and not just rest the final games of the season.

Marty
Guest
Marty
3 years 10 months ago

Good post. Without the 2nd Wild Card, the NL races would be essentially over with 20 games left in the season.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 10 months ago

Last year’s Braves (who hold that spot) beg to differ.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
3 years 10 months ago

Yea, because that happens all the time and wasn’t an outlier. LOTS of teams are mathematically still in it, so it’s still possible. Just because something is within the realm of possibility, doesn’t mean you should expect it.

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 10 months ago

Thanks for the writeup Dave. As a Brewers fan, I’ll undoubtedly be checking on this for the year as I (hopefully) watch the Crew!!

One other key part of this analysis is the current status of each team. While “momentum” or “being hot” might not be that important, the health of your team is. The Cardinals have a very easy schedule, but Molina has been nicked up for the past 2 weeks or so, Beltran doesn’t look the same (he has a problem with his legs), David Freese was sitting for a little while not too long ago, etc.

For the Brewers, Corey Hart is going to try and play through a foot injury, so it’s not like they (or any team, for that matter) are 100% healthy.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 10 months ago

Re: the Cards — you also neglected to mention that Garcia’s been up and down since returning from the shoulder soreness that pushed him to the D.L. and Wainwright may be wearing down in his return from TJ surgery. I’m a Cards fan but there are legitimate concerns about that team regardless of their relatively easy schedule down the stretch. I don’t really see the Brewers, however, as the team best positioned to take advantage of the Cards’ slide.

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 10 months ago

I agree – the Brewers are still long shots to make the playoffs. The teams that are best positioned are the Dodgers and the Phillies given their remaining schedule and current place in the standings.

Coolstandings.com has the Brewers with a 7% chance. That feels about right, maybe the homer in me rounds up to 10.

Doug B
Guest
Doug B
3 years 10 months ago

so much for the Phillies. you can count them out now.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
3 years 10 months ago

“The Braves basically have one of the two spots locked up”

As a Braves fan, I really wish people would stop saying this.

jorgath_dc
Guest
jorgath_dc
3 years 10 months ago

Fine. “The Braves will take one of the two spots as long as they don’t screw up too much.” Better?

wooddt
Guest
wooddt
3 years 10 months ago

Let me FTFY: “The Braves will take one of the two spots as long as they don’t screw up too much… again.”

Tom
Guest
Tom
3 years 10 months ago

As a Phils fan I am very grateful both that Ruiz is back and his outstanding season might mean something. Seemed like a cruel joke that after making the playoffs so many years they’d miss out when Ruiz was doing so well. Also crazy that so much of the Phils surge happened without him in the lineup. When Ruiz went out they were 47-58 then a couple days after his return they’re .500.

ralph
Guest
ralph
3 years 10 months ago

Such Padre hate. They’re only 6.5 games back you know!

jorgath_dc
Guest
jorgath_dc
3 years 10 months ago

I mean, it’d be hilarious if it happened, but you have to admit it’s doubtful.

ralph
Guest
ralph
3 years 10 months ago

I always root for hilarious. All they need is a 50-game (approximately) winning streak and San Diego will finally have a World Series champion to call its own.

Chris from Bothell
Guest
Chris from Bothell
3 years 10 months ago

“If the Dodgers are going to get into the playoffs, they’re going to earn it. This isn’t just the hardest remaining schedule of any team in the wild card hunt, this may be the hardest remaining schedule of any team in baseball.”

On a quick check, the A’s might be a close second there.

– One more today @ Anaheim
– 3 vs. O’s @ home
– off day
– 3 @ Tigers
– 3 @ Yankees
– 4 @ Rangers
– 3 vs. M’s @ home
– 3 vs. Rangers @ home

Finishing with 7 games at home is good, and the Tigers and M’s sprinkled in there is good for them. But 6 vs. AL East leaders, 7 against the Rangers (4 in Arlington!) and 16 straight games to finish the season overall… if they hang on for 2nd WC they’ve earned it.

Chris from Bothell
Guest
Chris from Bothell
3 years 10 months ago

Oops. 6 at home to finish. Curses, lack of ability to edit posts.

brendan
Guest
brendan
3 years 10 months ago

this. A’s remaining sched is toughter than LAD I agree. At least the A’s are in possession of the 1st WC right now.

David K
Guest
David K
3 years 10 months ago

That’s a pretty brutal schedule, I’d say a lot more so than what the Dodgers have to face. The M’s are the weak team in the bunch, and they’re something like 26-17 since July 26 (to cherry pick the best starting date for that stat). When someone said “and the Tigers and M’s sprinkled in there is good for them”, the Tigers are still a playoff contender. And the rest of the schedule is self-explanatory.

Russ
Guest
Russ
3 years 10 months ago

I would just LOVE to see a 4 or 5 way tie for the 2nd wild card spot, just for the chaos it would bring.

But, then again, I’m a sicko.

David K
Guest
David K
3 years 10 months ago

sIGn mE Up FOr ThAt ToO

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 10 months ago

This. The DS schedule was already changed to accomodate the wild card game. A three or four way tie would completely mess up the schedule.

Doug B
Guest
Doug B
3 years 10 months ago

in case of second wildcard ties the tie-breakers have been established.

for a two-way tie the teams meet for a 2-inning playoff at 4:00 PM on the field of the team hosting the wildcard playoff game.

in case of three-way tie the teams each send a representative for the winner to be determined by a home run derby.

in case of a four-way tie there is a thumb war tournament to be officiated by Hulk Hogan.

in case of five or more teams in a tie each team will send a representative for the winner to be determined by eenie meenie meine moe.

jim
Guest
jim
3 years 10 months ago

gotta like arizona’s 10 games left against colorado and chicago

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 10 months ago

“If the Cardinals aren’t the favorites for the final wild card spot right now, the Phillies just might be.”

But at the same time not calling the Cardinals the favorite is ridiculous.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
3 years 10 months ago

Why are the Phillies favorites? They’ll have 18 to play and if the Cards win tonight, will be 4 out. That means if STL goes 9-9, Philly has to go 14-4 the rest of the way, that’s insane. Plus they have to hope the other teams they’re chasing also lose.

I think this analysis was good, but sort of a “if all is equal” type of analysis. Instead, use the record of the teams playing since the trade deadline because some of these teams in August and September aren’t the same team they were in April-July.

Also, adjust their toughness based on how many games they’re back and also how many teams they’re chasing, how many times they play the teams they’re chasing, and the strength of schedule of the teams they’re chasing play.

When I look at it like that, I don’t see the Phillies as a favorite at all. Pretty much the same shot as any other team.

Doug B
Guest
Doug B
3 years 10 months ago

and 1 day later the Phillies are all but eliminated…

roadbird
Guest
roadbird
3 years 10 months ago

“this is exactly the kind of scenario that Bud Selig was hoping for when he pushed for an additional wild card entry”

As long as there’s not a 2,3, or 4 way tie for the 2nd wild card spot since that will shit on Bud’s playoff schedule.

Of course as a fan, that is exactly what I’m hoping for.

Chris from Bothell
Guest
Chris from Bothell
3 years 10 months ago

Actually, they’ve worked out the contingencies for most 2, 3 and 4-way ties, even accounting for mixes of “some tie for division and some tie for WC and what to do with losers of division face-off”.

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120907&content_id=38029316&vkey=news_mlb_nd&c_id=mlb

It reads like stereo instructions, though. The bigger challenge will be interpreting for fans so they know what to scoreboard watch for, in the final couple days…

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 10 months ago

Just for kicks, what are the Padre’s schedule?

seth
Guest
seth
3 years 10 months ago

The giants wont be tapping the breaks very much if at all most likely. If we have a chance to crush the dodgers post season hopes we are going to go for the throat. Just the way it is.

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