The Red Sox ended their 2011 season against the Orioles. I guess that's not as impressive as it seems now, what with the Orioles contending the next season. But at the time, it was quite impressive. The Red Sox were in the middle of a monumental collapse, but surely they were going to beat the Orioles, right?
Well, say. Didn't work out like that. And that's the funny thing about spending time worrying about schedules over the last month: They still have to play the stupid games. The Tigers had three games to play against the Royals (easy) and three against the White Sox (gulp) this past week. They were swept by the Royals, and they swept the White Sox. Since that thrilling series, they've dropped two at home against the Indians. Looking at the schedules last week would have told you nothing. Sweet, annoying baseball.
Except you can't just ignore schedules. They still have some predictive value. Usually in retrospect! But sometimes in advance, too. A look at the schedules over the last month of the season, with the contenders ranked from "least difficult" schedules to "most difficult."
1. Tigers (Link)
This isn't a surprise, as this part of the Tigers' schedule has been notable since the schedules were released. The Tigers play the A's three times in their last 18 games. The rest of the schedule is filled with Indians, Twins, and Royals. Oh, my. In the last two weeks of the season, they play the Twins six times and the Royals seven times. It seemed hard to believe before the season started, but it's even harder to believe now that the AL Central is such a close race.
Of course, the Tigers are losing to the Royals and Indians these days, so maybe this ranking is a bit of a curse.
2. White Sox (Link)
They get games against the bottom of the Central, too, with 16 games remaining against the Twins, Royals, and Indians. That helps their Wild Card chances too, for sure, as they'll be playing some bad teams while the East is busy bludgeoning each other. But the White Sox also have seven games over the last two weeks against contenders -- three in Anaheim, and four hosting the Rays.
3. Rangers (Link)
4. Angels (Link)
These two have similar schedules (six games against the Mariners and A's), but where the Rangers get to host the Indians for their part of the AL Central schedule, the Angels have to host both the Tigers and the White Sox. It's a small, but certainly significant, difference.
5. Orioles (Link)
As you'd expect, the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays all have a similar, incestuous AL East-themed schedule, so the differences are slight. But between a road trip to Oakland and a season-ending series in Tampa, the Orioles will have 13 straight games against sub-.500 teams. The bulk of those are against teams the Yankees and Rays also have to play -- Boston and Toronto -- but there's something about the consecutive stretch against non-contenders that seems especially fortuitous.
6. Yankees (Link)
The Yankees are currently in the beginning of an impressively difficult intra-division swing, where they'll spend their next five games on the road against the Rays and Orioles, but they play 12 of their last 19 at home. They still have six games remaining against Boston, but so do the other two contenders in the East. Unlike the Orioles, though, they'll get to play the A's at home.
7. Rays (Link)
It's not a huge separation between the O's and the Rays, but the inter-division games the Rays have are on the tougher side: three hosting the Rangers, and four against the White Sox in Chicago.
8. A's (Link)
A better name for this post might have been "Holy Crap, Did You See The A's Schedule?" Funny thing about five out of the seven teams up there: They play the A's in the final month of the season. Here's a breakdown of the last 27 games the A's play:
Teams listed above: 21
Seattle Mariners: 6
Parse the schedule as much as you like, sifting through home games and road trips, but there's no way around the brutality of the A's schedule. Their last road trip of the year is three games in Detroit, three in New York, and four in Texas. Zoinks.
Of course, the A's weren't supposed to be here in the first place, so I doubt they care. And when it comes to end-of-the-season schedules, you probably shouldn't care too much about the teams in the middle. But it's still worth noting that the A's and Tigers will have very different paths to the playoffs.