|The Yankees have a slightly more favorable schedule than the Orioles down the stretch. (AP)|
The schedule was going to save the 2011 Red Sox. The schedule was going to save the 2011 Braves.
The schedule was going to usher the 2012 Phillies right back into the wild-card race.
Then they lost three out of four to the worst team in baseball, proving only that their bullpen was never pennant-race worthy -- and that one of the most dangerous assumptions you can make is that a race will be decided by which team has the easiest schedule.
Dangerous, but oh so enticing.
So here you go, with 2 1/2 weeks left, a quick look at what the schedule tells us about the races that are still undecided:
AL East: Small edge to the Yankees over the Orioles. Both teams play four of their final five series against teams with losing records. But the Yankees play their one winning opponent at home (A's next weekend), while the Orioles play theirs on the road (Rays, the final three games of the season). And, of course, the Yankees have a one-game lead.
AL Central: Small edge to the Tigers over the White Sox. Remember, we're only talking about schedule advantage, not overall advantage. The White Sox lead the division by two games, with a chance to make it three when they host the Tigers in a makeup game Monday. But the schedule after that favors the Tigers, if only by a little. They have just one remaining series against a winning team (Tuesday through Thursday this week, at home against the A's). After that, it's Twins, Royals, Twins, Royals. The White Sox, by contrast, still have three games in Anaheim and four at home against the Rays.
AL West: Edge to the Rangers over the A's. The Rangers have a three-game lead, and four of the seven remaining head-to-head meetings will be in Texas. The A's are about to begin a week of games in Detroit and New York. The Rangers, though, have two series remaining against the Angels.
AL wild card: Edge to the Orioles over the Angels. The A's aren't home-free yet, but they in effect have a 4 1/2-game edge in the race for a playoff spot, so we'll concentrate on the two teams with the best shot at the second wild card. The Orioles, as we said, don't play another team with a winning record until they go to Tampa Bay for the final three games of the season. Meanwhile, the Angels have the Rangers for six games and the White Sox for three.
NL wild card: Edge to the Cardinals over the Dodgers, Pirates and Brewers. The Nationals, Reds, Braves and Giants are basically in, but they'll play a significant part in determining which team joins them as the second wild card. The Reds and Nationals each play the Dodgers, Cardinals and Brewers. The Giants play the Dodgers. The Braves play the Pirates. So why give the edge to the Cardinals? Their next three series read Astros, Cubs, Astros.
Then again, playing the Astros didn't help the Phillies any.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. By losing on Sunday to the Indians (for the 10th time this year), the Tigers turned their makeup game with the White Sox into almost a must-win. The good news for them is that they've played well in the head-to-head series so far, with 12 wins in 17 games, going into Tigers at White Sox, Monday afternoon (2:10 ET) at U.S. Cellular Field. More good news for the Tigers: Doug Fister, who beat the White Sox last Tuesday, starts the big game Monday. Good news for the White Sox: Jose Quintana, who beat the Tigers last Monday, is set to pitch against them again this Monday.
2. Amazing how important Andy Pettitte seems to the Yankees now, considering he's 40 years old and has just three wins in the last two years. But especially with continuing concerns about CC Sabathia, Pettitte is hugely important. He hasn't pitched since June 27, but he'll return to the mound for Blue Jays at Yankees, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium.
3. The Rangers have four more wins than any other American League team, but they also have a familiar concern. Do they have a single starting pitcher they can absolutely count on? If there is one, it's Yu Darvish, who hasn't lost in a month and gets his next start in Rangers at Angels, Thursday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. Zack Greinke, who hasn't lost in nearly a month, starts for the Angels.