Ranking strength of early NL schedules 

February, 24, 2013
2/24/13
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Andrew McCutchenJoe Sargent/Getty ImagesAndrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a tough early-season schedule.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- This is Part II of our rankings of the early-season schedules, from toughest to easiest. On Saturday, the focus was on the American League. Sunday, we turn our attention to the National League:

1. Pittsburgh Pirates



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 33 of their first 42

Home/road: 22 of their first 42 at home

Schedule notes: There is a perception that the Pirates have a whole lot at stake early in the season, as they try to rebound from their second-half collapse last year, and they could get a strong indication of just how good they are -- or just how tough a year it's going to be -- right out of the gate. After they open with the Cubs, the Pirates' next 29 games -- that's 29 straight -- are against teams that contended last year, including the Cardinals, Nationals and Braves. In fact, the Pirates see the Nationals and Braves more early in this season than the Phillies do, despite the fact that they play in a different division.

The hurdle ahead: The Pirates get a tough series of games in late May, too, including a four-game interleague stretch with the Tigers.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 28 of their first 41

Home/road: 23 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: They didn't catch much of a break in how their first interleague games are scheduled -- three games at Yankee Stadium in mid-April, and then four games against the Texas Rangers at the end of May.

The hurdle ahead: Interestingly, the D-backs will play about two-thirds of their games against the Dodgers in the first half, leaving only a couple of series for the second half against L.A. Arizona could roll into the All-Star break, because it finishes up the first half with a 10-game homestand.

3. Colorado Rockies



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 28 of their first 41

Home/road: 19 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: The gauntlet really starts for the Rockies in mid-April, when they begin a monthlong stretch of games against teams expected to contend, from the Diamondbacks to the Braves to the Cardinals -- and oh, by the way, their first two interleague series will be against the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees.

The hurdle ahead: Colorado's first-half schedule is packed with games against the Dodgers and Giants -- four series against each team, in fact, which will make for a lighter second half.

4. San Francisco Giants



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 28 of their first 40

Home/road: 22 of their first 40 at home

Schedule notes: I once had a conversation with Giants manager Bruce Bochy about the strength of schedule stuff, and he chuckled. "It doesn't really matter with us," he said, "because we play the same way against everybody." The Giants play a lot of close games, regardless of whether they're facing the Dodgers or the Mets. The Giants will see a lot of the Dodgers in the first half of the season.

The hurdle ahead: They didn't catch a break with their interleague matchups, which include four games with Oakland and a series against the improved Toronto Blue Jays.

5. Chicago Cubs



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 27 of their first 41

Home/road: 22 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: The Cubs will be tested early -- from April 5-24, they will only play teams that contended last year, from the defending champion Giants to the Rangers to the Reds. So the lamentations could come early this year.

The hurdle ahead: The Cubs have only two games against St. Louis before June 17, which means the second half of their schedule will be filled with games against the Cards.

6. Miami Marlins



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 26 of their first 41

Home/road: 19 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: They have a ton of games against NL East teams early, and don't really start seeing some of the better teams outside of their division until May.

The hurdle ahead: The Marlins will run into a buzzsaw right before the All-Star break, with two weeks of games against the Braves, Cardinals and Nationals. Good luck with that.

7. St. Louis Cardinals



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 26 of their first 41

Home/road: 19 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: They'll face a string of contenders at the outset, with 12 straight against the Diamondbacks, Giants, Reds and Brewers. It won't be easy early on for them.

The hurdle ahead: The Cardinals will have a chance to feast right before the All-Star break, with nine straight games against the Astros, Marlins and Cubs.

8. Cincinnati Reds



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 25 of their first 41

Home/road: 22 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: Cincinnati gets to hit the ground running with some early-season challenges, opening the year with an interleague series against the Los Angles Angels, then facing the Cardinals and Nationals.

The hurdle ahead: It won't be easy for them, either, in their final games before the All-Star break; in the last two weeks of the first half, they'll face the Giants, Brewers and Braves (with a series against the Seattle Mariners mixed in).

9. Washington Nationals



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 25 of their first 40

Home/road: 21 of their first 40 at home

Schedule notes: Nine of Washington's first 18 games are against the Marlins and Mets.

The hurdle ahead: Their interleague draw won't be easy: three games early against the Chicago White Sox, a two-gamer against the Detroit Tigers in early May and four games against the Baltimore Orioles in late May.

10. Atlanta Braves



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 20 of their first 41

Home/road: 15 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: Don't be surprised if the Braves win a lot in the first weeks of the season, because they have a lot of games versus the Cubs-Marlins-Rockies-Mets ilk. But after opening the season with six home games, the Braves will just about live on the road, for 16 of their next 18 games.

The hurdle ahead: After opening their season with the Phillies, the Braves won't see Philadelphia until July 5, when they play in Philly for the first time all year. That means a whole lot of Braves-Phillies games after the All-Star break.

11. San Diego Padres



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 20 of their first 39

Home/road: 18 of their first 39 at home

Schedule notes: The challenge will come early, because exactly half of their first 24 games are against the Dodgers and Giants -- but those will be interspersed with games against the Mets, Rockies, et al.

The hurdle ahead: The Padres will play most of their games against the Dodgers and Giants before the All-Star break, leaving San Diego with one set of home-and-home series against each of those division rivals in the second half.

12. Los Angeles Dodgers



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 39

Home/road: 24 of their first 39 at home

Schedule notes: So L.A. will get a whole bunch of home games early, including the six-game homestand to start the year and a nice leisurely nine-game homestand in early May. And the Dodgers have more off days early in the season than most other teams in the league.

The hurdle ahead: L.A. will have four series against the Giants in the first half of the season, so the two teams will face each other in only seven games after the All-Star break. The Dodgers and Giants won't see each other between July 7 and Sept. 12.

13. Milwaukee Brewers



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 40

Home/road: 21 of their first 40 at home

Schedule notes: The Brewers would seem to have a shot at getting off to a nice start, because of the relative softness of their early schedule. Fifteen of their first 27 games are against second- and third-tier NL teams, from the Rockies to the Padres to the Cubs.

The hurdle ahead: Milwaukee won't see the Cincinnati Reds until May 10, and has only six games against them before July 8.

14. Philadelphia Phillies



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 41

Home/road: 20 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: The Phillies had an easy schedule early last season, and it didn't work for them, but they'll get another shot at the pillow-soft stuff at the outset of this season. In their first interleague series of the season, the Phillies face the Royals, then they get the Mets and will see the Marlins 10 times before May 22. Philadelphia would seem to be a candidate for a strong start.

The hurdle ahead: Oddly, the Phillies' first game against Washington doesn't happen until May 24, and after opening the season against the Braves, they won't see them again until just before the All-Star break.

15. New York Mets



Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 20 of their first 41

Home/road: 21 of their first 41 at home

Schedule notes: Somebody must really, really like the Mets, because it's hard to imagine a team in a tough division like the NL East getting an easier first month than New York's early slate. The Mets open with six games at home -- which is nice -- and 13 of their first 16 games are against teams that finished under .500 last season, including the Marlins and Rockies. This makes the Mets a premium candidate for the "I can't believe they're this good" start.

The hurdle ahead: But on the flip side, there will be a price to pay. Only three of the Mets' first 28 games are against the Nationals and Braves, which means they'll be seeing a whole lot of those two NL East teams thereafter. More than a quarter of their schedule after May 1 is filled with games against Atlanta and Washington.