Assessing the strength of schedule for the AL Wild Card contenders

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have an uphill climb to a playoff spot, and strength of schedule doesn’t look it will bail them out.

Personally, I somewhat dislike the whole “it could be a lot of worse, let’s look at the bright side” sort of narrative. That line of thinking often is used as a cop-out to defend disappointing performances, and a failure to match potential with results. That said, it is also easy to get a narrow view, focusing on the bad parts, and wrongfully dismissing good things or helpful context that can shape the complete picture.

At the very least, the Yankees are still playing somewhat meaningful baseball, and at least this team has a shot at making the postseason. And with a healthy Aaron Judge, and a grooving Gerrit Cole, it’d at least have a shot at competing in the playoffs, even if as an underdog, should they somehow make it.

Before talking about a potential postseason outlook, this team still has a long journey and requires a hot streak in order to get there, entering play on Friday four games back of the last Wild Card spot. This deep into the season, it’s advisable to really look hard at the strength of schedule as a potential deciding factor for teams competing for these final playoff spots. There aren’t too many games left, so how good the teams left on the schedule for each contender will have an impact on who makes the tournament.

At least one of Tampa or Baltimore, if not both, will make the playoffs, and at this point, it’d be surprising if the Astros and Rangers are not there as well. This leaves one spot to go to either the Blue Jays, Mariners, Red Sox, Yankees, or even the Angels, if you’re feeling generous. However, we’ll be focusing on the teams ahead of New York at the moment.

A group of three tiers presents itself when you go to strength of schedule for each of these four contenders that are vying with the Yankees for that last spot.

The Boston Red Sox stand out as having the most difficult rest of the season, with only the Rockies carrying a schedule with a higher winning percentage (.538), than Boston (.532). Between the Orioles, Dodgers, Rangers, and Rays, the Red Sox will have 18 total games against virtual locks for the postseason, and that’s not even to mention seven meetings across two series with the Houston Astros.

Even some of Boston’s easier opponents are by no means easy ones, as the Padres and Diamondbacks are still very much alive in the playoff push, in the National League.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Mariners have the easiest schedule out of these four. Not coincidentally, Seattle is not in the stacked AL East. With multiple series against last place teams, the Mariners will face Athletics and Rockies a combined 13 times between now and the end of the regular season.

In between these two extremes lies the schedules of both the Jays and Yankees. Toronto’s opponents have a combined .497 winning percentage, with the Jays still to face not one, not two, but three last place teams, in the Athletics, Rockies, and Royals.

Meanwhile the Yankees absolutely need to pounce against the bottom feeders of the AL Central, with 10 combined games against the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. Even if they do so, they will still have an uphill climb.

Between strength of schedule, and current record, the Mariners probably have the easiest path to the playoffs. Boston will hang their hat on the fact that they’re 36-32 against teams with a winning record, so that hasn’t been necessarily the issue for the Red Sox. The Jays, on the other hand, have been pretty poor against good teams (33-41).

New York has their work cut out for them, and while they don’t have the toughest schedule remaining, the schedule also isn’t an asset. Outperforming all of the teams in front of them is tall order indeed.

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