This is the era of the unbalanced schedule, in which teams play those from within the division far more often than they play those foreign hordes from elsewhere. That, of course, affects the wild-card races, as does the sometimes widely divergent interleague schedule.
As for races within a division, how the ordering of the schedule goes can make a difference -- i.e., some teams have a more difficult early part of the season, while some teams hit a tough stretch toward the end. Things generally even out in the end insofar as division races are concerned, but how the schedule falls is definitely worth considering when evaluating the various pennant races.
So let's take a moment to look forward and see how strength of schedule might influence the 2013 contending fray.
In the East, give a modest edge to the Rays. Over their final 99 games, their opponents, based on the present standings, have an average winning percentage of .504, and the Rays will play 50 of those final 99 regular-season games at home. That slate compares somewhat favorably to those of the Red Sox (.513 average opponents' winning percentage, 46 games at home/51 games away), Yankees (.513, 49 H/51 A) and Orioles (.525, 52 H/46 A). That's not a huge spread by any means, but, again, maybe a modest edge for Tampa Bay. In a division as tightly compressed as the AL East, that could make a difference.
In the Central, we don't find much worth noting, as pretty much every team has a relatively undemanding schedule, thanks to the general weakness of the division.
In the West, there's little to distinguish the Athletics and Rangers, who each have an easy schedule from this point forward. The A's, for instance, have a remaining-opponents' winning percentage of.488 and will play 53 of 97 games at home. The Rangers, meantime, check in at .489, 54/45. Not much difference between the two, but compare those numbers to the tougher AL East numbers above. There's the difference, and that's one reason the AL West runner-up will almost certainly claim a wild-card berth.
Shall we just crown the Braves now? They already have a robust seven-game lead in the NL East, and then there's this: .454, 53 H/45 A. Baked into those numbers are a combined 30 (!) games against the lowly Mets and lowlier Marlins -- or more than 30 percent of Atlanta's remaining schedule. And that's to say nothing of all those home games.
In the NL Central, the Eye On Baseball Heavyweight Champion Cardinals (.482, 50 H/49 A) have a slightly easier go of it than do the Reds (.506, 48 H/50 A) and Pirates (.504, 49/50). Same goes for the Diamondbacks (.490, 50 H/48 A) and their competitors in the NL West.
As for NL wild-card berths, let's just lay out the suspects and their roads ahead (in addition to the NL squads listed above, of course): Giants at .493, 49 H/51 A; Rockies at .494, 47 H/51 A; and Nationals at .467, 50 H/50 A. The NL East flag may be out of reach for Washington (at least for now), but the schedule will present them with a chance to get back in the wild-card push.
The big winners in all of this? The Braves, without question.
(Wink of CBS eye: The most excellent CoolStandings.com, from which the data above originate)