Ranking the contenders' schedule strength 

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
8:46
AM ET
Oakland AthleticsAP Photo/Tony AvelarThe first-place Oakland Athletics should do plenty more celebrating in the second half.
On July 23, 2013, the Cleveland Indians were 52-48 and slogging along. But what they had in front of them was opportunity, as noted then, in the form of one of the easiest second-half schedules in the big leagues. They proceeded to take full advantage of it and made the playoffs.

With that in mind, what follows is how the second-half schedules stack up in 2014. These notes are based on records going into Sunday's play, and the contenders are ranked from the toughest schedule to the easiest.

1. (most difficult second-half schedule): Baltimore Orioles
Home/away: 32 games at home; 36 on the road.
Games against teams with records of .500 or better: 42
Schedule notes: With the rest of the division something of a mess, the Orioles appear to have a great opportunity to win the AL East. But they will be challenged right out of the All-Star break: 10 straight games against the AL West beasts, beginning with Oakland, then the Angels and Mariners. Then, as a topper, they go back home and play the Angels and Mariners again, followed by a makeup game in Washington. In fact, Baltimore's first 26 games after the All-Star break -- yes, that's twenty-six -- are against teams with records of .500 or better. Brutal.
Big finish: