The final four weeks of the schedule favor the Toronto Blue Jays winning a third straight American League East title. That’s the verdict of “Winning Form,” my evaluation of each contender’s schedule, which analyzes the stretch schedule based on performance in seven areas: home/road, day/night, grass/artificial turf, and record against stretch opponents.Records in each category are calculated on a weighted basis, based on the number of games remaining in each category.
The Jays have played .648 ball against the teams they’ll play down the stretch, but when their record is weighted for the number of games remaining against each of those opponents, their winning percentage climbs to an even more impressive .672. That’s nearly 100 points better than the Jays’ overall record and projects to a record of 18-9 in their remaining 27 games starting this weekend.
The New York Yankees, the Jays’ most immediate threat, show a weighted winning percentage of .558 against their stretch foes, projecting to 15-12 in their remaining 27 games. Advantage: Toronto.
In other categories, the Jays don’t show such a marked edge. They play just 12 of their final 27 games at home, but the Jays have the American League’s best road record coming into this week, although it’s still not as good as their homerecord. Winning Form for the Jays’ home/road schedule projects a 16-11 record.
The Jays are also exceptional in day games (31-14), projecting better than five wins in eight remaining matinees. But they are just a handful of games over .500 in night games, giving them a day/night Winning Form of 15-12. The Jays’ are playing .604 ball on grass, better than on artificial surfaces, even though they play on a carpet at home. Most of the Jays’ remaining games are on the fake stuff, and their grass/turf Winning Form comes out to 16-11. Averaging the four Winning Form figures shows the Jays with an overall 16-11 projection, better than any other AL East contender can muster.
The Yankees make their best Winning Form showing in home/road splits. They boasted an AL-best 43-23 home mark coming into their current homestand, but play only 12 of their last 27 games in the Bronx. They show no exceptional tendencies in any of the other categories. Overall, the Yankees’ Winning Form projects to a 15-12 mark, slightly less favorable than the Jays’ slate.
As for the Orioles, their weighted winning percentage of .578 yields a 16-12 Winning Form projection. The best news about the O’s schedule, other than their 10-game homestand to finish the season, is the absence of further games on artificial surfaces, where the O’s are four games under .500. Overall, the O’s Winning Form projection is a near-dead heat between 16-12 and 15-13. More importantly, the schedule does give the Orioles the opportunity to beat those two teams when they meet face to face during the final week, which may be as big a break as the team can ever ask. However, that wasn’t enough help for the Orioles in 1989.
Other Races In the American League West, the Chicago White Sox schedule puts them on the road for 16 of their final 29 games, but the Sox have the second-best road mark in the league. Less encouraging, the White Sox have a winning record against just three of the eight teams they meet down the stretch, and a weighted winning percentage of .516.
The good news for the Sox is that their competitors have done even worse against their stretch opponents. The Kansas City Royals’ weighted record is just a game over .500 against their stretch opponents, while the Texas Rangers have played their final foes to a .468 mark. The Sox also show better figures in the other categories, for an overall 16-13 Winning Form projection. The Royals can’t muster anything better than 15-13 in any category, and 14-14 overall.
The Rangers’ Winning Form also shows better things beyond their opponents’ category, aided by 17 of their last 29 games at home, where they play in the neighborhood of .600. Their home/away Winning Form shows 16-13 for the stretch, but their overall Winning Form is, optimistically, 15-14. The Rangers have also played exceptionally well in day games, but play just four more of them.
The Rangers also have a couple of other handicaps beyond the reach of Winning Form but worth mentioning. The Rangers play a pair of doubleheaders, making up for earlier rain-outs. That’s hard for a team trying to make up ground, not only because of the strain that twin bills place on personnel, but because of the overwhelming tendency to split rather than sweep. (If you’re the leader, you’ll take the split.) Those doubleheaders also turn the three-game series into a four-game series, and the longer the series, the more difficult the sweep. Aside from pure probability, a four-game series makes it more likely that a team will have to face an opponent’s ace pitcher, or at least one having an exceptionally good start. It also means that the team will send out one of its weaker pitchers.
In the National League West, the San Francisco Giants suffered a sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves last week, but they still have the best home record in the league and play 15 of their final 29 games at Candlestick Park. The Giants also show a gaudy .620 weighted winning percentage against stretch foes, for a 18-11 Winning Form projection. In other categories, the Giants are even more impressive, showing projections closer to 19-10 and just about matching the pace the team set going into September with the best record in baseball.
The Braves show an even better weighted percentage—.654—against their stretch opponents than the Giants, for a Winning Form projection of 18-10. In the other categories, however, the Braves fall far short of that lofty mark. They are playing an otherworldly .647 on the road, but their indifferent home record gives them a mere 16-12 Winning Form projection because 15 of their 28 remaining games are in Atlanta. Overall, the Braves’ Winning Form of 17-11 gives the Giants an advantage, at least according to the schedule.
All those numbers suggest that the Giants should be able to hang on, since they don’t meet the Braves again this year. Note, however, that the Braves finish their season with three against the Colorado Rockies, trying to finish their clean sweep of a club they’ve downed 10 times in as many meetings. The Giants spend their final weekend visiting Los Angeles for four games with their ancient rivals. In 1982 and again in 1991, the Giants downed the Dodgers on the final weekend to give the Braves the division title. Count on Manager Tom Lasorda to have his Dodgers primed to return the favor this time if the Giants haven’t wrapped up the title by the time they get to LA.
In the National League East, the schedule won’t be enough to stop the Philadelphia Phillies. Even Gene Mauch would have a hard time blowing the lead this time.