The toughest schedules down the stretch

Padres, Cardinals, Mariners will have to earn their October tickets

September 2nd, 2021

As much as the schedule makers try each winter, not all slates are created equal -- and that’s never under the microscope more than in September. There are still 17 teams with postseason odds of at least 1% (per FanGraphs) fighting for 10 spots, and some have a more uphill climb than others, both in the standings and via the calendar.

With just over four weeks to go in the regular season, here’s a rundown of each contender’s remaining strength of schedule (using FanGraphs’ version, a combination of opponents’ average win percentage along with an adjustment for home and road games).

Note: Strength-of-schedule figures and postseason odds are as of Wednesday.

1) Padres: .546
Postseason odds: 33.0%

Key series: This summer hasn’t gone the way Padres fans envisioned, and the next month and change (this weekend’s series with the Astros, three more series with the Giants and two more with the Dodgers) won’t make their Wild Card chase any easier. If the Friars make it through that gauntlet, they’ll certainly be battle-tested for October.

2) Cardinals: .526
Postseason odds: 5.4%

Key series: Don’t sleep on the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race, but check out their next two weeks: Three games against the Brewers, four against the Dodgers, three against the Reds, three against the Mets, three against the Padres and four more against the Brewers. St. Louis also faces Milwaukee in the final week, meaning it has 10 remaining games against the Crew’s top-notch pitching staff.

3) Rays: .521
Postseason odds: 99.9%

Key series: The Rays have a firm grip on the AL East, but they have a little work left to do. Tampa Bay still has two upcoming series with the Blue Jays and one apiece with the Red Sox and Yankees. A 2020 ALCS rematch against the Astros also looms at the end of September.

4) Giants: .515
Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: This weekend’s Giants-Dodgers showdown by the Bay is obviously as big as it gets, but the Giants still have a tough 10-day stretch starting Sept. 13 with four games against the Padres, three against the Braves and three more at San Diego.

5) Mariners: .509
Postseason odds: 3.0%

Key series: Seattle owns the most remote postseason odds on this list and has a tough road ahead, but there are chances to make up direct ground on its AL Wild Card competitors with upcoming matchups against the Red Sox (Sept. 13-15) and A’s (Sept. 20-23 and 27-29).

6) Athletics: .508
Postseason odds: 24.5%

Key series: The A’s hopes of a division crown aren’t dashed just yet, and they’ll get two direct shots at the AL West-leading Astros on Sept. 24-26 and Oct. 1-3. But Oakland also needs to take care of business against the Mariners (Sept. 20-23 and 27-29), especially since its season series with the Red Sox and Yankees are all sewn up.

7-T) Blue Jays: .506
Postseason odds: 9.1%

Key series: Fourteen remaining games against the Orioles and Twins could help the Blue Jays stay in the AL Wild Card mix. Ten remaining games against the A’s and Yankees will likely determine whether they actually make up ground on each of those clubs above them.

7-T) Dodgers: .506
Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: Los Angeles’ biggest series is this weekend's battle for NL West supremacy in San Francisco. But two remaining series against the Padres (Sept. 10-12 and 28-30) also give the Dodgers an opportunity to personally keep the Friars out of a potential winner-take-all Wild Card Game matchup.

9) Yankees: .500
Postseason odds: 91.9%

Key series: The Yanks were three games back of the second AL Wild Card spot a month ago before going on their surge. Now they need to consolidate momentum. Taking care of business against the Orioles (six remaining matchups), Rangers and Twins (four combined matchups) will help, but the pinstripes have a big final week lined up with three games in Boston, three games in Toronto and three at home against the Rays.

10) Brewers: .498
Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: The majority of Milwaukee’s heavy lifting is seemingly done. It clinched its season series against the second-place Reds (10-9), and would need to leapfrog both the Dodgers and Giants for the NL’s No. 1 overall seed. A juicy final weekend series at Dodger Stadium could give the Crew that shot, and could also be a potential October preview.

11) Mets: .497
Postseason odds: 5.6%

Key series: August was a dreadful month in Queens, but the Mets' remaining schedule could offer them a path back into Wild Card (and, just maybe, NL East) contention. New York begins a five-game series against the Nationals this weekend, followed by three games at the Marlins. The Amazin’s also get direct shots at the Phillies (Sept. 17-19 at home) and the Braves (Oct. 1-3 at Atlanta), if they can stay within striking distance until then.

12-T) Astros: .493
Postseason odds: 97.9%

Key series: A pair of three-game sets against the A’s amid the season’s final 10 days will give the Astros a chance to sew up another AL West division crown, but Houston’s lead might be insurmountable by then anyway, thanks to its run of 14 games against the Angels, Rangers and D-backs from Sept. 10-23.

12-T) Red Sox: .493
Postseason odds: 73.7%

Key series: An AL East lead that Boston held as late as July 30 may have slipped away for good, though the Sox do get a crack at the Rays today and next week at Fenway Park. Arguably bigger series loom against fellow Wild Card competitors in the Mariners (Sept. 13-15 in Seattle) and Yankees (Sept. 24-26 at home).

14) Braves: .482
Postseason odds: 73.5%

Key series: The Braves used a big August to catapult themselves into the NL East lead. Now their schedule could help them stay there. Tonight’s series opener in Denver kicks off a stretch of 13 combined games against the Rockies, Nationals and Marlins, plus a four-game set at the D-backs on Sept. 20-23. If Atlanta feasts on those non-contenders, it could make its final-week series against the Phillies and Mets more comfortable.

15) White Sox: .470
Postseason odds: 100.0%

Key series: With the AL Central title virtually sewn up, the White Sox should be able to give their stars plenty of rest for October. A seemingly soft schedule down the stretch could even help the South Siders make a run at the Rays for the AL’s No. 1 seed. Their toughest tests remaining come back to back against the A’s and Red Sox on Sept. 7-12.

16) Phillies: .462
Postseason odds: 31.6%

Key series: Rhys Hoskins’ season-ending lower abdomen surgery is a big blow to the Phillies lineup, but there’s an appetizing month ahead. Friday kicks off a three-game series in Miami, and after a three-game interlude in Milwaukee, Philadelphia has back-to-back series against the Rockies and Cubs. Then comes a big showdown with the Mets at Citi Field, but another appealing stretch against the Orioles and Pirates awaits after that.

All of this is to say the Phillies should still be within earshot of the Braves when they visit Atlanta on Sept. 28.

17) Reds: .461
Postseason odds: 51.0%

Key series: Cincinnati’s strong second half has it right in the thick of the NL Wild Card race, and arguably every series from here on out qualifies as the Reds’ biggest series of the year. The Reds will need to capitalize on 19 combined games against the Tigers, Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, which could give them some wiggle room if they struggle against the Cardinals (a direct competitor for their Wild Card seat) on Sept. 10-12. A three-game home series against the Dodgers on Sept. 17-19 could also be an NL Wild Card Game preview.