It's a two-tiered system in the AL, where the Central and West contenders definitely get an edge in terms of strength of schedule — and as a result, the wild-card competition — compared to AL East teams.
And if it's still a close division race by late-September, here's the Tigers' other edge — their last four series (13 games) are against the Twins and Royals. That's the final two weeks of the season against two of the league's three worst teams. In contrast, the White Sox will face the Angels, Rays and two series against the Indians.
The Rangers' stretch run could be tough early and late, but the middle offers a nice opportunity to go on a run.
They face seven games with the Tigers and Yankees in the upcoming week, but then comes a 29-game stretch of series with Toronto, Baltimore, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Seattle.
The Rangers will stay in the division after Sept. 13, and that includes a finishing A's-Angels-A's gauntlet. Still, they have a 5.5-game cushion in the West, so barring collapse, we're most likely looking at a shot at a third consecutive pennant.
Los Angeles Angels
For all the Angels' spending, the bullpen is leaking in the absences of Scott Downs and Jordan Walden, and you have to expect GM Jerry Dipoto to make another move soon.
Fortunately for Mike Scioscia's team, it has the most-favorable home-road game differential left — a good thing since they are two games under .500 on the road. And an impending 10-game homestead against Seattle, Cleveland and Tampa could give them a boost.
The A's-Tigers-A's gauntlet in early September could be pivotal, but three of the last six series are against the Mariners and Royals.
Chicago White Sox
Trying to capitalize on an unexpected playoff shot, general manager Kenny Williams did a nice job of adding Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers and Kevin Youkilis without a major cost. However, a Paul Konerko concussion could have severe implications, and while the Sox have done a better job of interspersing rest periods for Chris Sale than the Nationals have done with Stephen Strasburg, Sale still could be facing a bit of a slowdown in innings.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The A's are 7-7 in their last 14 games, so at the very least, they've cooled from their unsustainable 19-5 July. They also face the toughest schedule of the three AL West contenders — especially in September/October — and only the Rays have a worse home-road games differential.
The rest of August clearly is the easier proposition — series with the White Sox, Royals, Indians, Twins, Rays and Indians. But beginning Aug. 31 with a series against Boston, the A's will play 26 of 32 remaining games against contenders — the exceptions being six games against Seattle.
So getting to the playoffs isn't going to be an easy proposition for Bob Melvin's surprise contenders.
New York Yankees
The 44 games against contenders includes both the Blue Jays and Red Sox. Besides the very-tough AL East slate, the Yankees also have series remaining against the Rangers, White Sox and A's. At least they have the best home-road games differential of the three top division contenders — not to mention a comfortable lead.
Somehow, the Twins snuck into the late schedule with a series at Target Field Sept. 24-26. But otherwise, the last non-contender is Cleveland Aug. 24-26.
You have to question whether the Orioles can continue contending despite a currently -47 run differential (11th in the AL), and whether their 22-6 record in one-run games possibly can hold up. But we're buying the O's and Buck Showalter hanging around for the time being.
The remaining schedule is AL East-tough, of course, as the only two series against non-contenders come this weekend against Kansas City and Sept. 17-19 in Seattle. But the other AL East contenders face virtually the same strength of schedule, there's no significant edge for anybody.
Tampa Bay Rays
Nobody faces a tougher home-road games differential than the Rays, and it begins Friday with a 10-game trip to Minnesota, Seattle and Los Angeles — some serious air miles there. Visits to Texas and Chicago also remain, as well as the AL East gauntlet.
Here's how tough the Rays' schedule will be down the stretch — the last non-contender they will face (and again, we're counting the Red Sox and Jays as contenders at this point) will be the Royals (Aug. 20-22). After that, the rest of the schedule — all 38 games worth — will be against contenders.
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