Which contenders have toughest schedules?

August 9th, 2019

This year’s only Trade Deadline has come and gone, meaning that except for a major injury or stray waiver-wire pickup, the schedule becomes a bigger factor in determining who’s in and who’s out of the postseason.

But not all August/September schedules are created equal, and with 18 clubs holding at least a 1% chance of reaching October (per FanGraphs’ playoffs odds), the remaining slate will loom large. So, with that in mind, here’s a ranking of each contender’s strength of schedule based on opponent win percentages, along with its biggest series left between now and the close of the regular season on Sept. 29.

(Note: Strength-of-schedule figures are courtesy of FanGraphs, which use a combination of opponents' average win percentage and an adjustment for home and road games. All numbers are through Wednesday's action.)

1. Phillies: .515
Games back in Wild Card: 1/2; Postseason odds: 12.3%

Key series: The Phillies and Nationals could collide in the National League Wild Card Game. They’re lined up for a five-game series in the season’s final week (Sept. 23-26 at WSH), thanks to a rainout from June. And, oh yeah, used to call Nationals Park home. Sign us up for this one.

2. Giants: .513
Games back in Wild Card: 3; Postseason odds: 1.7%

Key series: With a large handful of clubs to jump in the Wild Card hunt, San Francisco needs to take aim at the NL Central bloc in the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers. The Giants' four-game set against St. Louis (Sept. 2-5 at STL) will be their last opportunity.

3. Mets: .512
Games back in Wild Card: 1/2; Postseason odds: 42.5%

Key series: This weekend's set against the Nationals is huge, but the biggest one after that is probably versus the Phillies (Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at PHI). New York just took care of business against the Padres, Pirates, White Sox and Marlins, and now it’s time to “slay the giants.” If the Mets can dominate the Phillies and Nationals again Sept. 2-4, their storybook run could move even closer to reality.

4. D-backs: .507
Games back in Wild Card: 1 1/2; Postseason odds: 9.8%

Key series: Taking two of three from the Phillies this week was a big boost, and a sweep of the Brewers (Aug. 23-25 at MIL) could help the D-backs bring another part of the Wild Card pack back to them.

5. Brewers: .506
Games back in Wild Card: Half-game lead for 2nd Wild Card; Postseason odds: 28.5%

Key series: Milwaukee still has three series left against the Cardinals and two against the Cubs, so who knows where all three of those clubs will stand by mid-September. But with Chicago currently holding the best postseason odds of the three, the Brewers and Cards might be left battling it out for a Wild Card spot when they meet Sept. 13-15 in St. Louis.

6-T. Cardinals: .501
Games back in Wild Card: 1/2; Postseason odds: 28.7%

Key series: Same logic applies here as with the Brewers, and we're circling that same Sept. 13-15 series at Busch Stadium. But really, the Cardinals’ entire September is filled with key matchups, including the Giants, Nationals, Cubs (two series) and D-backs. St. Louis could control its own destiny with a strong finish.

6-T. Nationals: .501
Games back in Wild Card: Two-game lead; Postseason odds: 80.7%

Key series: Washington has already won nine of its 14 head-to-heads against Philadelphia, including four of the five staged at Nationals Park. What better way to lock up a postseason spot than beating one of your archrivals -- and former stars -- in front of the home crowd in that five-game, final-week series?

8. Indians: .500
Games back in Wild Card: 3 1/2-game lead; Postseason odds: 91.1%

Key series: The Tribe has held its own against the Twins, taking five of the 10 head-to-head matchups to this point. But this weekend’s series and the teams’ next matchup (Sept. 6-8 at MIN) are both at Target Field, with the second of them sandwiched between winnable series against the White Sox and Angels. If Cleveland can bulldoze its way through that stretch, the pressure could fall to Minnesota for their last head-to-head, Sept. 13-15 at Progressive Field.

9. Cubs: .497
Games back in Wild Card: 3 1/2-game lead in NL Central; Postseason odds: 90.8%

Key series: Baseball’s oldest rivals have a home-and-home lined up over the season’s final two weeks, and the first leg (Sept. 19-22 at CHC) is an opportunity for the Cubs to take care of business at Wrigley before the final weekend at Busch Stadium.

10. Reds: .495
Games back in Wild Card: 4 1/2; Postseason odds: 5.4%

Key series: The more chaos between the NL Central’s top three, the better chance Cincinnati has of catching up. Sweeping the Cubs at Wrigley (Sept. 16-18 at CHC) would help the Reds keep in touch.

11-T. Athletics: .492
Games back in Wild Card: 1/2; Postseason odds: 30.4%

Key series: Oakland, somewhat improbably, does not have any remaining series lined up with realistic American League Wild Card contenders. The A’s aren’t technically out of the AL West race yet, but they need to turn up the heat on Houston as soon as possible -- and next week’s four-game set at the Coliseum (Aug. 15-18 at OAK) is that opportunity.

11-T. Braves: .492
Games back in Wild Card: 5 1/2-game lead in NL East; Postseason odds: 98.7%

Key series: A three game set at Nationals Park (Sept. 13-15 at WSH) falls in the middle of the Braves’ 14 consecutive games against the Nationals and Phillies, a run that will essentially define Atlanta’s hopes for a second consecutive NL East title. Roll through this two-week stretch, and the division is wrapped up. But if the Braves stumble, the last two weeks could get nerve-wracking. A strong series in Washington could demoralize a surging challenger.

13. Red Sox: .491
Games back in Wild Card: 5 1/2; Postseason odds: 12.9%

Key series: Boston’s four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees last week essentially put its AL East title hopes in the rear-view mirror. The Indians (Aug. 12-14 at CLE) and Rays (Sept. 20-23 at TB) are the two biggest AL Wild Card contenders left on Boston’s schedule, and they need to make up ground sooner than later.

14. Dodgers: .486
Games back in Wild Card: 18-game lead in NL West; Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: Los Angeles’ seventh consecutive NL West title is a foregone conclusion. Taking two out of three from the Braves (Aug. 16-18 at ATL) would likely seal up home-field advantage through the NL postseason, too.

15. Yankees: .485
Games back in Wild Card: 10 1/2-game lead in AL East; Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: With the AL East crown in sight and their slates against fellow division leaders Houston and Minnesota wrapped up, the Yankees’ marquee Interleague matchup at Dodger Stadium (Aug. 23-25) might be their most important showdown left. Remember, regular-season record dictates World Series home-field advantage now, and it certainly wouldn’t be shocking to see New York and Los Angeles rekindle a classic Fall Series matchup.

16. Rays: .482
Games back in Wild Card: Half-game lead for 2nd Wild Card; Postseason odds: 67.7%

Key series: Tampa Bay has a real opportunity to feast on cellar-dwellers like the Mariners, Padres, Blue Jays, Tigers and Orioles. So its remaining series against the Indians (Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at TB) and a four-game set against the Red Sox (Sept. 20-23 at BOS) really stand out. The Rays have already won nine of their 15 head-to-heads against Boston, including each of the last four.

17. Astros: .467
Games back in Wild Card: 10-game lead in AL West; Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: The Astros have dominated the A’s, winning nine of their first 11 head-to-head matchups. Take at least three of these four games at the Coliseum (Aug. 15-18), and Houston can really begin mapping out their stars’ rest days before October.

18. Twins: .466
Games back in Wild Card: One-game lead in AL Central; Postseason odds: 97.8%

Key series: The Twins’ current series against the Indians is probably their most important; they want to keep the Tribe at arms’ length as early and often as possible. But after this weekend, Minnesota can feast on the fading Rangers (four games), White Sox (six games) and Tigers (seven games), meaning it should be in a good position to really put the Indians away the next time they meet (Sept. 6-8 at MIN) if Cleveland struggles during a somewhat tougher stretch (three games against Boston, seven against the Yankees and Mets and three against the Rays).