Four teams in the American League and two teams in the National League are currently outside of wild card position, but are within five games of the second wild card spot in their respective league’s race. Their chances of making up the ground they lack obviously change with every win and loss, along with the fortunes of each of the team(s) in front of them in the standings.
Logical ways to predict which team has the best chance to overtake the current leaders are to compare the remaining slates of games for each team in question. Using combined winning percentages of opponents, number of head-to-head games with other contenders left, location of games and run differentials, it’s possible to get some feel for which teams have an easier road than others in their quest for the postseason.
Entering play on Saturday, Aug. 8, here is how the remaining strength of schedules played out for the teams in question. This first set of rankings goes by combined winning percentage of remaining opponents (an oddity: if you just flipped the second and third teams in this list, these rankings would go in alphabetical order):
- Baltimore Orioles – .556
- San Francisco Giants – .519
- Minnesota Twins – .516
- Tampa Bay Rays – .501
- Texas Rangers – .499
- Washington Nationals – .484
To further evaluate the chances of collecting wins, it’s necessary to look at the location of the remaining series between the four AL teams, the two NL teams and the teams currently sitting in the positions that they want to be in: the Chicago Cubs (NL) and Toronto Blue Jays (AL).
- Baltimore has a total of 21 games against Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Texas and Toronto left on its schedule. 11 of those contests are in Camden Yards.
- The Twins face the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers and Rays a total of 10 times yet this season. Only three of those contests will be played at Target Field.
- Tampa Bay hosts Baltimore, Minnesota, Texas and Toronto a total of 10 times before the season ends. They visit one of those teams nine times.
- The Rangers will play nine of their 12 remaining games against the four other AL teams in this category at home.
- The Giants have five more games against the Cubs this season, three of them at AT&T Park.
- Washington hosts San Francisco for a four-game set later this year. That’s the only series left between these squads. The Nationals don’t have any more games against the Cubs on their schedule.
Another statistic that is worth consideration here is the average run differential of remaining opponents.
- San Francisco Giants – 19.6
- Texas Rangers – 16.1
- Baltimore Orioles – 14.5
- Minnesota Twins – 11.8
- Tampa Bay Rays – 10.9
- Washington Nationals – -13.6
In consideration of the overall strength of schedule, home-field advantage in head-to-head contests and ability of opponents to win games on a regular basis, it’s clear which teams trying to play their way back into playoff position in each league have advantages over their competition.
In the AL, the Rangers’ remaining opponents have more losses than wins and have an average run differential of just over 16. That’s much better than Texas’ season run differential of -37, but these last few weeks are all about getting hot, staying healthy and having a favorable schedule. The Rangers have all of those things going for them. They have won seven of their last 10 going into play on Saturday, Aug. 8 and have a total of 31 games left against teams who currently own losing records.
The toughest road in the AL belongs to Baltimore. The Orioles’ remaining opponents are flirting with playing .600 ball and averaging outscoring their opponents by nearly 15 runs. Baltimore has the same number of games remaining against teams whose records are over .500 as Texas has against sub-.500 teams.
In the NL, Washington has a large advantage over San Francisco. Not only does the average run differential of their remaining opponents highly favor the Nationals (a difference of nearly 33 runs) but Washington’s 37 games left against opponents with losing records outperforms the Giants’ such contests 26 as well.
Naturally, there are many factors that will determine whether or not any of these teams play their ways back into playoff position. What’s certain is that Texas and Washington have golden opportunities, while the Orioles and Giants have an uphill battle.