Contenders with the easiest (and toughest) schedules remaining

August 18th, 2023

This time of year, the MLB standings can be downright addictive. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s making a run? Who’s fading? Standings are just a snapshot of a season, but it’s quite a powerful snapshot. It can feel like the standings can tell you everything.

But they can’t, and the most important thing they can’t tell you is something that cannot show up on a standings page -- games that haven’t been played yet. But those games matter just as much as the ones already in the books. The standings can’t tell you who a team is going to play, how that team looks or what sort of path a team has moving forward.

Baseball will never be football: Strength of schedule can’t matter that much in the macro. But with just a month and a half left, it can tell you a bunch. And some paths to the postseason are a lot smoother than others. Here’s a look at the three teams in the pennant chase best positioned, because of their schedule, to make a run down the stretch … and the three with the toughest roads ahead of them.

These are not based entirely on remaining strength of schedule (SOS), though that is a factor. And I tried to focus on teams whose postseason status is uncertain. The Twins, for example, have an easy schedule the rest of the way (28th toughest), but it likely won’t be a big factor given their fairly comfortable lead over the Guardians in the AL Central and the high likelihood of ending up as a No. 3 seed no matter what.

Note: Strength of Schedule (SOS) numbers come via FanGraphs
All stats are through Thursday's games.


Remaining SOS (rank): .471 (30)
If you're a Cubs fan, you’d rather the club not have three games against the Braves in September: No one should want to play the Braves at all right now, or maybe ever. But if you’re wondering why the projections systems are so high on the Cubs to make the postseason, the schedule is an excellent indicator as to why. They’ve got 16 games against last-place teams (the Royals, Rockies and Pirates) along with three against the Tigers.

But perhaps most intriguing are the seven games they have against the fading D-backs, a team who plays at a stadium that often has its fair share of Cubs fans in it anyway. Chicago has done the hard part; it has the right runway to finish this thing out strong. Per FanGraphs, that .471 remaining SOS is tied for the lowest in all of MLB.

Remaining SOS (rank): .493 (24)
Of all the contenders for the top seeds in the American League, the Orioles are sitting pretty for one specific reason -- the number of games they have against teams outside their (still quite difficult) division. Sure, they’ve got a combined 14 games left against the Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox, not to mention an intriguing three-game series against the Astros (a team they just struggled against at home earlier this month), but other than that, check out their non-division foes: the A’s, Rockies, White Sox, Nationals, D-backs and Cardinals. The Orioles could blitzkrieg those teams and not even have to sweat the rest of the division.

Remaining SOS (rank): .501 (15)
Their raw SOS is just middle of the pack, but allow me to explain … Seattle’s terrific post-All-Star break run has them on the cusp of the Wild Card chase, just a half-game behind the Blue Jays for the final spot. But you can make an argument that it’s setting up perfectly for the Mariners down the stretch. Sure, 20 of their final 41 games are against the Dodgers, Astros, Rangers and Rays, so that’s tough, even if those American League teams are precisely the ones they need to beat to reach the playoffs anyway.

But check out the other opponents: three versus the reeling Reds and 18 against more struggling teams: the A’s (six games), Royals (three), White Sox (three), Mets (three) and Angels (three). If the Mariners can go .500 in those 20 against contenders, they could get in because of the games against those bad teams alone.


Red Sox
Remaining SOS (rank): .519 (3)
The Red Sox have been better than many thought they would be this year, but the final record might not quite reflect that because of the brutal finishing stretch of their schedule. How would you like to have seven games left against both the Orioles and Astros? Also, there are five against the Rays, three against the Dodgers and three against the Rangers. If you’re looking for any postseason scouting on the top World Series contenders, the Red Sox are getting some up-close-and-personal views over the next month or so. The Phillies also have a similarly tough remaining SOS (.518), but they are not listed here given that their postseason positioning is a bit more secure. At least for now.

Remaining SOS (rank): .509 (9)
As if navigating the NL West isn’t tough enough, the Giants still have to play six games against the Braves -- just miserable timing all around right there. They’ve also got seven against the Dodgers, but the real issue is the lack of games against terrible teams on the back end. They have seven against the Rox, but four of those games are in Colorado, and as we all know, the “home” Rockies and “road” Rockies are like two different teams. Even the other two teams with losing records the Giants play, the Padres and Guardians, ostensibly still have plenty to play for. The Giants can’t take any nights off.

Remaining SOS (rank): .511 (8)
The Marlins have had a lot of good fortune to still be in the pennant chase at this point, from their record in one-run games (27-11) to their record in extra-inning games (6-2). But the quietest advantage they’ve had has been their schedule. That’s about to end. They only have three games left against the Braves, but their games outside the division are tougher than you’d like: six against the Dodgers, seven against the Brewers and two against the Rays. What may save them? The 13 combined games they have left against the Nationals and Mets.