Schedules in baseball are weird things. Even setting aside the possibility of injuries, you could play the same team in April and August yet be playing an entirely different team, even if the majority of the roster is the same. For instance, compare playing the Cleveland Indians during their July 14-game winning streak to playing them just last week.
One of those Indians teams had an absolutely unhittable pitching staff and the best offense in the league, the other had a staff spiraling downward and an offense that could barely keep up. Or as a more dramatic example, consider playing the Philadelphia Phillies in the first month of the season compared to now. Or the Chicago White Sox. There are plenty of examples throughout every season of teams completely changing their complexion over the course of the summer, which oftentimes makes comparing schedules between MLB teams a fruitless endeavor.
The same can probably be said for other sports, but teams in the NFL play so many fewer games and NBA teams stay much more consistent over a season than their baseball counterparts — and they, too, only play half as many games. But in baseball, the sport famous for having its best players fail two-thirds of the time, there are a lot more variables and moving parts over a full 162 games. Many more ways to fail, in general.
But, with all that said, it’s hard to ignore the temptation to look at upcoming schedules. In particular, now that the Indians are in a clear race for the American Central lead with the Detroit Tigers, anxious fans are beginning to scoreboard watch mid-game, and even look ahead to games down road. So let’s do that just that.
Breakdown of the Indians' remaining schedule
We will start with the Indians, because, obviously.
The Tribe is entering the stretch run with a four-game lead in the division, most of which was built up over the course of their 14-game winning streak. They have stumbled a bit as of late, but they are one of the few teams in baseball to not lose more than three games in a row at any point in the season.
They just wrapped up two series against the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals, and they are in the middle of one against the Los Angeles Angels. Here’s a look at what they have for the remainder of the season, as well as those teams’ win-loss records as of August 12:
As expected, given Major League Baseball's love for cramming as many division games in the last couple weeks as possible, the Indians have a lot of games left against AL Central opponents. In fact, the last 24 games of the season are nothing but divisional games. The Indians play the Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Tigers, and Royals, in that order, down the stretch.
Luckily, they have been really good against everyone in the division except those damn Minnesota Twins. Here is a look at how the Indians stack up against all of their remaining opponents, courtesy of ESPN's standings grid.
Not bad. The Red Sox series sort of skews things, considering they only play one makeup game, but overall the Indians have winning records (or are even) against everyone except the Twins, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. The Miami Marlins series is in Progressive Field, so the Tribe will not have to deal with National League rules anymore this season.
Breakdown of the Tigers' remaining schedule
While the Indians can beat up on the Angels and White Sox in the next couple weeks, the Tigers are about to head into a gauntlet, although their overall schedule is a bit easier than that of the Tribe's. But only slightly. They have cooled down since their own eight-game winning streak and have now lost four games in a row —one to the New York Mets and a sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.
That amounts to a .491 winning percentage, just a shade under what the Indians will be facing at .500. And here is how the Tigers have fared against those teams to this point this season:
The Tigers have a .439 winning percentage against their remaining teams, compared to the Indians' .623 winning percentage. A large part of that is, of course, the head-to-head matchups which the Indians have dominated to this point. Which brings me to our next point...
Head-to-head matchups are going to be huge
No matter what happens against every other team, the Indians almost have to play well against the Tigers down the stretch. They have already this season, sporting an 11-1 record against Detroit and guaranteeing themselves a season win over their divisional foe.
All that could be moot if the Tigers come storming back in the final month, however, as the two teams play each other seven more times, including a crucial four-game series in Cleveland from September 26 to September 29. Even if the ominous schedule creation algorithm was updating the schedules midseason I don't think it could have given Indians and Tigers fans a more fitting finale to the season, except for maybe if they played each other in the final series instead of other teams.
If the Indians come out of that four-game series tied with the Tigers, they may be in trouble. Detroit will head to Atlanta to take on the Braves for their final series of the season, while the Indians will be facing the Royals, who have been tough all season long, even as they fade from playoff contention. Obviously, the Indians' best bet would be the Tigers imploding before we even get to that scenario.
No matter what happens, there will be no blaming the schedule for a potential Indians collapse or a run to the playoffs. It's all up to what happens on the field.