- Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider
While all teams start the season at 0-0, when it comes to their schedules, some teams start with a built-in advantage or disadvantage. Back before the current expansion era, teams in both leagues played schedules that were more balanced than they are today. The AL in particular played a very balanced schedule, with each team playing divisional opponents 13 times and nondivisional opponents 12 times. While bad teams always have slightly tougher schedules than good teams (a 100-loss team doesn't get to play itself, while every other team gets to), schedules were far more consistent across teams than they are today.
Whether it's a good idea for baseball or not, unbalanced schedules are here to stay for the foreseeable future. In the April 4 issue of ESPN The Magazine, we took a look at schedule strength and determined that the Toronto Blue Jays had the most difficult schedule in baseball, with their average opponent having an expected winning percentage of .522, and the St. Louis Cardinals had the easiest, at .484 (these figures take into consideration that the AL is a slightly tougher league).
The Blue Jays (and the Baltimore Orioles, with an ever-so-slightly easier schedule) have a particularly tough route to the playoffs. Not only do the Jays face the toughest slate in baseball, but they also have to win more games against that tough schedule than most teams in other divisions -- the last time an AL East champion won fewer than 95 games was in 2000. When you're in the AL East, even a 90-win season generally means that your only route to the playoffs is the wild card.
Looking at the Blue Jays (ZiPS has them as a 79-win team right now, with Baltimore a couple of wins behind), how would their currently dismal playoff odds look in another division with another team's schedule? Playing ruthless baseball despot, with powers commissioner Bud Selig can only dream of, I went ahead and swapped the division and schedules for the Cardinals and Blue Jays. I also went ahead and changed the schedules for the other teams to reflect the divisional alignment.
MLB schedules have a huge impact on teams' chances to make the playoffs. Need proof? Dan Szymborski simulates a world in which the Blue Jays and Cardinals swapped divisions and finds perennial underdog Toronto would come out on top in the NL Central.