The schedule could have a larger bearing on this unusual 60-game season than any campaign in recent memory and, despite the schedule-makers’ best efforts, there was simply no way that every team’s slate would be created equal once it was divided geographically (East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West). It’s obviously more important than ever for clubs to avoid an early slump, and the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline falling just 39 days after the season’s first pitch is thrown puts even more emphasis on the opening weeks.
With that in mind, MLB.com scanned what lies ahead for this year’s contenders. Here are what look to be the easiest and hardest schedules coming out of the shoot -- and how they could impact the clubs tasked with them.
The easiest slates
Favorable because: 14 of first 25 games vs. DET, KC, PIT
The Reds are a popular sleeper pick after spending big to upgrade their roster, and they should have a runway to test out their new toys. Six of Cincinnati’s first 10 games are against the 114-loss Tigers, followed soon after by an eight-game stretch against the Royals (two series) and Pirates beginning Aug. 11. The Reds won’t face the reigning National League Central division champion Cardinals until Week 5, and a strong start could be important in a division that’s projected to have four teams all finish within a game of one another.
Favorable because: 17 of first 29 games vs. TOR, MIA, BAL
An early victory lap for the defending World Series champs? Ten of Washington’s first 15 games are against Blue Jays, Marlins and Orioles teams that averaged 103 losses a year ago. So, if the Nationals can simply split their early series against the Yankees and Mets, one would figure they would be in a strong position. Plus, with three off-days within the first three weeks by virtue of playing on Opening Night, Washington could possibly start Max Scherzer in four of its first 13 contests and have Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin filling in much of the gaps. Anthony Rendon is on the West Coast now, but it’s hard to see the Nats replicating their slow start from last year.
Favorable because: 14 of first 25 games vs. SEA, SF, COL
Not only will Houston avoid fierce crowds on the road in the wake of its sign-stealing scandal, it will also see plenty of the western divisions’ worst clubs from last year in the early going. The Astros start with four home games against the Mariners, the team they went 18-1 against in 2019, and then, after some tests against the Angels, Dodgers, D-backs and A’s, get a potentially big respite in an eight-game homestand against the Giants, Mariners and Rockies -- three clubs that finished under .500 last season. This isn’t a club that the other AL superpowers would like to see gain any early confidence, but the window appears open for Houston.
Favorable because: 17 of first 33 games vs. SF, SEA, COL
This is likely the first season in modern Dodgers history in which they’ll wrap up all of their Giants matchups before September, and that could spell an early advantage since many see San Francisco as a rebuilding club. A 10-game stretch against the Mariners, Rockies and Giants beginning Aug. 17 looks particularly favorable, especially because that won’t include plane rides in and out of Denver. Seeing how several prominent players, including Walker Buehler, Kenley Jansen, Pedro Báez and AJ Pollock, all started Summer Camp behind schedule, a soft first half could help the heavily favored Dodgers weather any early chaos.
The toughest slates
Tricky because: 28 of first 34 vs. NYM, TB, PHI, NYY, WSH
No East Coast contender has it easy when looking across all 60 games, but the reigning NL East champion Braves will be tested most right from the start. Not only are Atlanta’s first 11 games against two seeming contenders in the Mets and Rays, but think of the starting pitchers the Braves could have to face in those series: Jacob deGrom (possibly twice), Marcus Stroman, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow. That could double as a Cy Young Award shortlist between the two leagues.
Atlanta’s only breathers in the first half of its schedule might be one three-game series against the Blue Jays (who many feel are improved from last year, anyways) and another three-game set with the Marlins. And on top of all that, the Braves are one of two teams (with the Mariners) that will play 20 games without an off-day to begin the season.
Tricky because: 34 of first 37 games vs. WSH, PHI, BOS, TB, NYM, ATL
The Bronx Bombers will have plenty of early games against the East Coast gauntlet, including the Opening Series against the Nationals’ three-headed rotation monster, back-to-back two-game sets against former manager Joe Girardi and the Phillies and then a three-game showdown with the rival Red Sox right out of the gate.
But Yankees fans can also look at this with a glass-half-full perspective because of the reward at the end: 20 of New York’s final 23 games are against teams that lost at least 95 games last year (Orioles, Blue Jays, Marlins). It’s like what your mom told you when you were young; if the Yankees finish their homework early -- and emerge from the early gauntlet with the AL East lead -- there’s plenty of playtime potential down the stretch. And New York, like the Nats with Scherzer, could potentially unleash Gerrit Cole early and often across the first 2 1/2 weeks.
Tricky because: 23 of first 33 games vs. OAK, HOU, TEX, LAD
Remember how all of the Rangers’ tests will come in the back half of the season? Well, we should know right away how far the Angels’ big three of Mike Trout, Rendon and Shohei Ohtani can carry them. Los Angeles faces the AL West’s top dogs in the A’s and Astros in seven of their first 10 contests, followed soon after by back-to-back home series against the A’s and Dodgers. By the time the Halos finish seven straight games on the road in Oakland and Houston beginning Aug. 21, we could have a good idea of whether general manager Billy Eppler will be aggressive in upgrading his club’s starting rotation via the trade market.
Tricky because: 17 of first 23 games vs. NYM, NYY, TB
Take the opening gauntlet we mentioned for Braves hitters and how they’ll have to face all the Mets’ and Rays’ aces, and then stack the Yankees’ 1-2 of Cole and James Paxton on top of it. Boston’s offense should still be potent with J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts there to cover up the hole left by Mookie Betts, but those are some tall orders awaiting them on the mound. All seven of the Red Sox’s first-half matchups against the rival Yankees will come in the Bronx.
Tricky because: 27 of first 33 games vs. CHC, STL, CWS, CIN, MIN
One could argue Milwaukee’s only first-half breathers are a pair of three-game series against the Pirates -- especially if the White Sox truly are improved after their tireless offseason. The Crew has needed September surges to put itself into the postseason in each of the past two years, but with the NL Central looking as close as it does this year, the Brewers might not have that luxury of time in a 60-game sprint. Thirteen of Milwaukee’s last 16 games will come against division foes in the Cubs, Cardinals and Reds, making the Brewers’ schedule look somewhat challenging -- particularly for a Central club -- in both the beginning and the end.