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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.