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Ferguson: Ticket to playoff berth could ride with the sked

Scott Ferguson
8/2/2013 1:30:43 PM
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Whining about a team's schedule is about as old as the game itself. However as the Wild Card races heat up over the final two months of the season, it's clear certain teams and divisions have a distinct advantage.

In the American League East for instance, the top four teams are a collective 58 games above .500. Yet in all likelihood based on what the schedules look like the rest of the way, only one Wild Card team will come out of the East.

Any one of the four could make it to the postseason and three of the four - Boston, Tampa Bay and Baltimore - still have a chance to win the division outright with a third of the season to go.

However when you look at the schedules for the season's last 50-odd games, you see the odds are distinctly skewed against the Eastern clubs. Boston, who is leading the division by a game over Tampa Bay through Thursday night, has 52 games left. 35 games are against the so-called good teams that are above .500 or are in contention, while only 17 are against teams at .500 or below.

Tampa Bay's schedule is marginally better with 26 games against the good clubs, and 28 against the bad. They also have only three head-to-head games left with the Red Sox. The Rays also close out their season at Rogers Centre with three against the Blue Jays, while the Bosox finish up with three in Baltimore.

The Orioles' schedule is more in line with Boston's. The O's play 32 games against quality clubs and just 21 against below-par outfits. Just based on these three teams' skeds, I would pick Tampa Bay to win the East, Boston to finish second and maybe hang on for a Wild Card and Baltimore to miss out.

Then you have the Yankees. They are longshots to make the postseason even though they are only three-and-a-half games out of the second Wild Card, but the truth is they have the easiest schedule left of the top four teams in the East. There are 26 games against teams above .500 and 30 against teams with a sub-.500 record.

Note only that nine of their final 12 games are against the teams in the lower echelon including three at Houston to end the campaign.

The major difference in schedules comes when you look at the other two divisions. Central-leading Detroit plays 29 of its remaining games against lesser clubs including 13 in a row to end the season, culminating with a three-game set in Miami against the lowly Marlins to close it out.

Cleveland at the very least has a shot at a Wild Card spot and quite possibly the Central title. Terry Francona's crew is riding an eight-game win streak and plays only 22 of its remaining games against teams with winning records. Their final 10 games are against teams with losing records including a wrap-up four-game series in the "Twin" cities against Minnesota. Are we seeing a trend yet?

Kansas City is even hotter than Cleveland and plays 32 of its final 55 against below-.500 clubs, including its final seven games of the season - closing it out with four on the road against the White Sox.

In the West keep your eye on Texas. They have the easiest schedule on paper of any of the American League contenders. They only have 19 games against the good clubs, 34 against the lesser lights. They also wrap up at home with three against Houston and four against the Angels.

The schedule of West-leading Oakland is just about on par with the Yankees in the East. The A's play 24 against the good, 29 against the not-so-good, but after a three-game series with the Rangers from September 13-15, their final 13 games are against clubs with losing records.

The unbalanced schedule and the weaker Central and West Divisions have created this situation. That's why as good as the East is, I can't see more than one Wild Card coming out of that division, and it's still possible there will be none. It could just as easily be one from the Central and one from the West.

If you were wondering about the Blue Jays, they have 16 remaining against teams with losing records, 36 versus winning clubs, and 28 against their own division. Their most meaningful games could come on the final weekend of the season when they play host to Tampa Bay. The Rays' playoff hopes could be riding on that series.
 
In the National League there's not much to get excited about in the Wild Card picture. Arizona is four-and-a-half out and has the only reasonable shot at catching Cincinnati for that second Wild Card slot.

The Division races are more exciting. St. Louis is just a game-and-a-half back of Pittsburgh in the Central, and the Diamondbacks are within three of the Dodgers in the West.

I guess the bottom line question is to see if the really good teams can overcome tough schedules and strong divisions. In the 13 World Series since 2000, the American League East has sent a team seven times - winning four and losing three.

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