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Looking ahead at schedule strength for baseball's second half

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

The Brewers have a tougher road than the Cardinals, but will it matter?
The Brewers have a tougher road than the Cardinals, but will it matter? (USATSI)

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With the post-All-Star portion of the season set to kick off Friday, Major League Baseball has 17 of its 30 teams within five games of a playoff spot. Four of the divisions have at least two teams within 1.5 games of each other for first place and one of them (the breathtakingly awesome NL Central) has four teams within 3.5 games.

With our eyes on the great races we're hoping to see down the stretch, let's check out the remaining schedules of the contending teams in each race. Obviously the games still need to be played and not all "above .500" teams are created equal. This is just a quick snapshot of schedule strength for the remainder of the season. We can enjoy that while also acknowledging the caveats.

Let's cut it off at five games, meaning I won't mention anyone further out. That also means there won't be a single mention of the Tigers, who lead the AL Central by 6.5 games. Congrats, Detroit!

We'll go race-by-race, in order of what I subjectively find the most intriguing.

NL Central

1. Brewers

Winning records (42): Cardinals (10), Reds (9), Dodgers (6), Giants (6), Pirates (6), Nationals (3), Blue Jays (2)
Losing records (24): Cubs (10), Marlins (4), Mets (4), Padres (3), Rays (3)

2. Cardinals, -1

Winning records (32): Brewers (10), Reds (10), Pirates (6), Dodgers (3), Orioles (3)
Losing records (34): Cubs (10), Padres (7), Diamondbacks (3), Marlins (3), Phillies (3), Rockies (3), Red Sox (3), Rays (2)

3. Reds, -1.5

Winning records (35): Cardinals (10), Brewers (9), Pirates (6), Braves (4), Nationals (3), Orioles (3)
.500 (7): Indians (4), Yankees (3)
Losing records (25): Marlins (7), Cubs (6), Rockies (4), Diamondbacks (3), Mets (3), Red Sox (2)

4. Pirates, -3.5

Winning records (38): Braves (7), Brewers (6), Cardinals (6), Reds (6), Tigers (4), Dodgers (3), Giants (3), Nationals (3)
Losing records (29): Cubs (6), Rockies (6), Phillies (4), Diamondbacks (4), Marlins (3), Padres (3), Red Sox (3)

Look at all those head-to-head games. Unreal. If all four teams hang around in contention -- and I believe they will -- this has off-the-charts potential. The Cardinals have the easiest road -- with the Reds not far behind -- and the Brewers the toughest, but this thing will be settled in house. Injuries and possibly the trade deadline will have impact as well.

NL wild cards

1. Braves

Winning records (32): Nationals (9), Pirates (7), Dodgers (7), Reds (4), A's (3), Mariners (2)
Losing records (35): Marlins (10), Phillies (9), Padres (7), Mets (6), Rangers (3)

1. Giants

Winning records (27): Dodgers (9), Brewers (6), Pirates (3), Nationals (3), Royals (3), Tigers (3)
Losing records (39): Padres (7), Phillies (7), Rockies (7), Diamondbacks (6), Mets (4), Cubs (3), Marlins (3), White Sox (2)

3. Cardinals, -0.5

Winning records (32): Brewers (10), Reds (10), Pirates (6), Dodgers (3), Orioles (3)
Losing records (34): Cubs (10), Padres (7), Diamondbacks (3), Marlins (3), Phillies (3), Rockies (3), Red Sox (3), Rays (2)

4. Reds, -1

Winning records (35): Cardinals (10), Brewers (9), Pirates (6), Braves (4), Nationals (3), Orioles (3)
.500 (7): Indians (4), Yankees (3)
Losing records (25): Marlins (7), Cubs (6), Rockies (4), Diamondbacks (3), Mets (3), Red Sox (2)

5. Pirates, -3

Winning records (38): Braves (7), Brewers (6), Cardinals (6), Reds (6), Tigers (4), Dodgers (3), Giants (3), Nationals (3)
Losing records (29): Cubs (6), Rockies (6), Phillies (4), Diamondbacks (4), Marlins (3), Padres (3), Red Sox (3)

Keep in mind the Brewers, Dodgers and Nationals are also factors here. Basically, it looks like there will be five playoff teams from these eight. Due to the lower parts of the divisions being so soft and the NL Central being so strong, it's hard to pick against the teams that don't win the NL East and NL West. Those are easier roads. And if that's the case, that just makes the NL Central race even better. Imagine if those four teams were within three or four games in September and vying for just one spot?

AL second wild card

1. Mariners

Winning records (38): Angels (10), Blue Jays (7), Orioles (7), A's (6), Nationals (3), Tigers (3), Braves (2)
.500 (3): Indians (3)
Losing records (26): Rangers (7), Astros (6), White Sox (4), Mets (3), Phillies (3), Red Sox (3)

2. Royals, -.2.5

Winning records (16): A's (7), Tigers (6), Giants (3)
.500 (14): Indians (10), Yankees (4)
Losing records (36): Twins (10), White Sox (10), Rangers (7), Red Sox (4), Diamondbacks (3), Rockies (2)

3. Blue Jays, -.2.5

Winning records (21): Orioles (9), Mariners (7), Tigers (3), Brewers (2)
.500 (10): Yankees (10)
Losing records (35): Red Sox (13), Rays (9), Astros (4), Cubs (3), Rangers (3), White Sox (3)

4. Indians, -3.5

Winning records (32): Tigers (11), Royals (10), Reds (4), Orioles (3), Mariners (3), Angels (1)
.500 (3): Yankees (3)
Losing records (33): Twins (12), Astros (7), White Sox (6), Rays (3), Rangers (3), Diamondbacks (2),

4. Yankees, -3.5

Winning records (34): Orioles (10), Blue Jays (10), Tigers (7), Royals (4), Reds (3)
.500 (3): Indians (3)
Losing records (31): Rays (9), Red Sox (9), Rangers (7), Astros (3), White Sox (3)

Well how do you do, Royals and Blue Jays? Seattle has a pretty tough road, too. In only looking at this, one would have to like Kansas City or Toronto's chances, but anything can happen and the Mariners are actually 27-16 so far this season against teams over .500. The seven Jays-Mariners matchups should be fun, too.

AL West

1. Athletics

Winning records (29): Angels (10), Royals (7), Mariners (6), Braves (3), Orioles (3)
Losing records (38): Astros (12), Rangers (10), Twins (4), White Sox (4), Phillies (3), Rays (3), Mets (2)

2. Angels, -1.5

Winning records (34): A's (10), Mariners (10), Orioles (6), Dodgers (4), Tigers (4)
.500 (1): Indians (1)
Losing records (33): Rangers (9), Red Sox (7), Astros (5), Twins (4), Marlins (3), Rays (3), Phillies (2)

Ten head-to-head matchups left. Xanadu! Otherwise the schedule favors Oakland and they've won six of the nine head-to-heads thus far. This isn't to say the Angels couldn't win it, just pointing out the facts at hand to this juncture.

NL East

1. Nationals

Winning records (28): Braves (9), Brewers (3), Dodgers (3), Giants (3), Mariners (3), Pirates (3), Reds (3), Orioles (1)
Losing records (41): Mets (13), Marlins (11), Phillies (10), Diamondbacks (4), Rockies (3)

1. Braves (percentage points back)

Winning records (32): Nationals (9), Pirates (7), Dodgers (7), Reds (4), A's (3), Mariners (2)
Losing records (35): Marlins (10), Phillies (9), Padres (7), Mets (6), Rangers (3)

Nine head-to-heads. Will the Braves continue their ownership of the series? They were 13-6 against Washington last year and are 7-3 this year. Aside from that, the Braves don't have it too rough, but the Nats have an even easier road. As mentioned above, it's very feasible to see both of these teams in the postseason, but given that a wild-card spot only guarantees one game, this will still be a great race.

NL West

1. Dodgers

Winning records (35): Giants (9), Braves (7), Brewers (6), Angels (4), Cardinals (3), Nationals (3), Pirates (3)
Losing records (30): Padres (9), Cubs (7), Rockies (6), Diamondbacks (5), Mets (3)

2. Giants, -1

Winning records (27): Dodgers (9), Brewers (6), Pirates (3), Nationals (3), Royals (3), Tigers (3)
Losing records (39): Padres (7), Phillies (7), Rockies (7), Diamondbacks (6), Mets (4), Cubs (3), Marlins (3), White Sox (2)

This is obviously tilted toward the Giants, but with the Dodgers looking like the much better club of late and nine head-to-head games, I don't think we can safely say this means "advantage Giants" or something. We can, however, say this is yet another race that should be fun.

AL East

1. Orioles

Winning records (31): Blue Jays (9), Mariners (7), Angels (6), A's (3), Cardinals (3), Reds (3)
.500 (13): Yankees (10), Indians (3)
Losing records (24): Rays (7), Red Sox (7), Twins (4), White Sox (3), Cubs (3)

2. Blue Jays, -4

Winning records (21): Orioles (9), Mariners (7), Tigers (3), Brewers (2)
.500 (10): Yankees (10)
Losing records (35): Red Sox (13), Rays (9), Astros (4), Cubs (3), Rangers (3), White Sox (3)

3. Yankees, -5

Winning records (34): Orioles (10), Blue Jays (10), Tigers (7), Royals (4), Reds (3)
.500 (3): Indians (3)
Losing records (31): Rays (9), Red Sox (9), Rangers (7), Astros (3), White Sox (3)

Tons of head-to-head fun here involving all three teams, but overall the Blue Jays have it the easiest by far. If they can get healthy, they have a good shot to overtake the O's -- though overcoming four games certainly won't be easy. This being the least exciting race (aside from the AL Central) shows just how awesome the second half will be.

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