Spurred into action by this Dave Cameron SI.com piece, where he postulates that Atlanta isn’t as well constructed as other NL playoff contendors (including Washington) for constant intraleague because they don’t have a natural power hitter on the bench (like we do in Tyler Moore and/or Chad Tracy), I asked myself this question: Which probable NL playoff contenders are going to be helped or hurt by their intraleague schedules this year?
(Note: I’ll skip the obvious answer to Cameron’s above question: who cares how well constructed you are when you start the season 12-1? And, had Cameron waited about a week to write this the answer may have very well been Atlanta’s out-of-nowhere find Evan Gattis, who clearly can serve as an interleage DH very ably).
Going down the line, looking just at intraleague opponents you get this list (3 game sets unless denoted):
- Washington: Home to Chicago White Sox, Detroit (2), Baltimore (2), Minnesota. Away to Cleveland, Baltimore (2), Detroit (2), Kansas City.
- Atlanta: Home to Kansas City (2), Minnesota, Toronto (2), and Cleveland. Away to Detroit, Toronto (2), Kansas City (2), Chicago White Sox.
Head to head, you have to say that Washington has a slight inter-league advantage over Atlanta; they have to play defending AL champs Detroit 6 times to our 4, they have to play Toronto four times instead of our Baltimore (a slightly tougher matchup). The games involving Cleveland and Chicago are probably a wash. Atlanta’s “natural rival” right now is Toronto to our Baltimore, which likely hurts them this season.
- Cincinnati: Home to Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland (2), Seattle, Oakland (2). Away to Oakland (2), Texas, Houston, and Cleveland (2).
- St. Louis: Home to Kansas City (2), Texas, Seattle, Houston (2). Away to Kansas City (2), Houston (2), Oakland, Los Angeles Angels.
St. Louis doesn’t play a single AL team until May 27th, and plays 8 of their 10 away AL games IN A ROW in mid June. This is a pretty massive scheduling advantage that lets them modify their roster for one big AL road trip and basically not have to worry about the away AL games the rest of the season. Head to head as compared to Cincinnati, you’d have to give a slight edge to St. Louis again, for getting those two extra games versus Houston. Otherwise these two slates look pretty even.
Either way they’re both considerably more difficult than what the NL East teams face, thanks to the games against the AL West playoff-calibre teams. Half their games are against LA, Texas and Oakland while the Nats only have to worry about 4 Detroit games (unless you think that Baltimore is going to be a playoff team again, which I don’t).
- San Francisco: Home to Oakland (2), Toronto (2), Baltimore, Boston. Away to Toronto (2), Oakland (2), Tampa Bay, New York Yankees.
- Los Angeles: Home to Los Angeles Angels (2), New York Yankees (2), Tampa Bay, Boston. Away to Baltimore, Los Angeles Angels (2), New York Yankees (2), Toronto.
Ouch; the NL West guys have AL East heavy interleague schedules this year. I’d say that the Giant’s slate is slightly harder; Tampa Bay and the Yankees and four games against Toronto versus three for the Dodgers. Oakland vs Angels as a natural rival seems like it will be slightly harder on the Dodgers (but, Oakland is starting right where they left off and may be a playoff team at the Angels’ expense again).
But again, either way you have to think the NL West teams are worse off than the NL East teams this year for interleague looking at their slate.
All of this may be helpful to teams trying to get a wild card spot, which we all hope will be Atlanta and not us. Because we all now know what can happen if you slip to the one-game wild card play-in. Just ask Atlanta and Texas what happened last year, when two teams who I thought both had the capability of winning it all were knocked out in a coin-flip game.
By the way, today on April 12th, the NL standings after 9 games basically already mirror the above scenarios in terms of Division leaders and wild card contenders. The only anomoly would be Arizona being in 2nd place by a game in the NL West. The cream rise to the top quickly it seems.