As you saw up top, the Angels are tied for toughest schedule in MLB based on 2019 winning percentages. Part of it is that — on top of playing one-third of their schedule against the Astros and A’s — they must play the Dodgers six times because of the natural interleague rivalry. That’s 26 games — 43.3 percent of the schedule — against three of the best teams in baseball.
|Team||Opponents’ average winning percentage|
|In the NL West, the division averages out to be fractionally above .500. However, the Dodgers — gird yourselves for breaking news — have the benefit of not playing themselves. Remove them from the calculus, and the NL West has an average win total of 27.9, which is roughly the same as the relatively weak AL Central.||Easiest 2020 schedules based on 2019 winning percentages|
|Easiest 2020 schedules based on 2019 winning percentages|
|However, the 2020 season — cut short to 60 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic and ownership’s plodding pace during negotiations with players — figures to be very different.||In more specific terms, one x-factor in the NL Central is how many times each contender gets an opportunity to beat up on the Royals and Tigers, the two weakest teams in the AL Central. The Cardinals get to play the Royals six times in 2020 — or 10 percent of their regular season games — and the Tigers another four. The Reds also get to play those two teams 10 times, while the Cubs and Brewers play them just seven times. That doesn’t sound like much — and it wouldn’t be across 162 games — but over a 60-game regular season that slight edge could matter, especially in a division as tightly bunched as the NL Central.|
The Yankees open the 2020 season by playing 33 of their first 36 games against teams that were .500 or better in 2019. Suffice it to say, that’s an exacting stretch to begin the year.
|Team||Opponents’ average winning percentage|
|With that in mind, let’s take a look at a handful of schedule “winners and losers” now that the full 2020 docket has been announced. We’ll keep our focus on likely contenders rather than the pitiable likes of the Orioles and Marlins.||Cardinals|
|Toughest 2020 schedules based on 2019 winning percentages||The Rangers will travel 14,706 miles during the 2020 season, which is the most in all of MLB. That combined with their opponents’ average 2019 winning percentage of .518 earns them “schedule loser” status.|
|Angels||As you can see above, the margins now stretch from a low mark of .449 to a high mark of .534. That’s a much greater variation than what we see in normal seasons, and as such strength of schedule is likely going to play a major role in how the playoff field shakes out in 2020.|
Winner: Cardinals and Reds
Teams will play regional schedules, with 40 games within the division and 20 games against the corresponding regional division in the other league (e.g., NL East vs. AL East, NL Central against AL Central). This lack of divisional “cross-pollination” in the schedule is probably going to lead to some very different degrees of difficulty. Note those 2019 number above — .510 at the challenging end of the continuum and .482 on the other, easier end. Now regard those same two extremes for 2020, based on 2019 winning percentages.
Yes, the Cardinals have a slightly easier schedule than the Reds based on 2019 winning percentages, but that reflects the fact that the Cardinals play the 75-win Reds 10 times while the Reds play the 91-win Cardinals 10 times. Given that the Reds made substantial improvements this past offseason, that divide is a bit misleading.
Winner: Dodgers and A’s
- AL East: 30.2
- AL Central: 27.8
- AL West: 31.3
- NL East: 30.0
- NL Central: 30.5
- NL West: 30.3
You’ll note above that the Rays’ opponents had an average 2019 winning percentage of .482. They’re the only AL East squadron that makes the list of easy schedules, and that’s in part because they get six interleague games against the Marlins, who lost 105 games last season.
Like the Braves, the Mets are one of four teams in the NL East with legit designs on the division title. They’ll play exactly half of their games against the Braves, Nationals, and Phillies, and they’ll play another six against the crosstown Yankees, who are in the discussion for best team in baseball. In all, the Mets will play 43 of their 60 games against teams that were .500 or better in 2019.
Loser: Yankees through Sept. 2
The Braves play in a hotly contested division that features three other likely contenders (the reigning champion Nationals, the Mets, and the Phillies). Also, thanks to a home-and-home against Boston, they’ll play 14 of their 20 interleague games against the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox (yes, the Red Sox still profile as a quality team despite the cynical trade of Mookie Betts). On top of all that, there’s the fact that the Braves are one of seven teams this season that will play 20 games in 20 days. The Braves will endure this stretch to start the season — they’ll open on July 24 and not get an off day until Aug. 13.
Winner: Yankees after Sept. 2
Even though MLB plays an unbalanced schedule — i.e, teams don’t play other teams an equal number of times — you don’t typically don’t see huge disparities in terms of strength of schedule. Last season, for instance, the Marlins had the toughest docket with an opponents’ average winning percentage of .510. Meantime, the Indians and Twins tied for easiest with a mark of .482. That’s a divide, but it’s not of the gaping variety.