10 Degrees playoff rankings: Sizzling A's face roughest schedule among 15 contenders

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

One month from Monday, baseball's regular season will end. If it does so in even half as conflagrant a manner as last season's blaze of glory, we should feel lucky that the addition of a second wild card didn't extinguish entirely what was a good and fair playoff system already.

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If the A's make the playoffs, it will have been truly deserved given their brutal schedule. (AP)

 

The new wild card and play-in game are meant to amp up the drama of a month that already teems with it. Artificial though the coin-flip game may be, it's best not to let it take away from the next month of baseball, which ought to be phenomenal. Teams that shouldn't be in it refuse to go away and teams that should won't step up. There are old powerhouses trying to rekindle their superiority and new ones planting stakes in the ground.

And then there is the one constant, the one unchangeable: the schedule. It can be kind and wicked. It can make a postseason and break another. And for the team that may well be the story of the season, the schedule makers unleashed some kind of vicious prank, because the worst ledger for this final month of the 15 teams that harbor playoff aspirations belongs to the …

1. Oakland Athletics
Opponents' winning percentage: .543
Home/road: 12/17
Off-days: Sept. 6, 17
Games vs. teams over .500: 23 of 29
Key series: at Texas, Sept. 24-27
Overview: Toughest opponent winning percentage? Check. Fewest home games? Check. Fewest off-days? Check. Most games against teams over .500? Check. At Detroit, New York and Texas without a single off-day? Check, of course. The only thing standing between more stories about how Bud Selig has mangled Oakland's stadium situation is the A's big, brutal mess of a schedule. A stretch with 17 of 20 games on the road. Sixteen straight games without an off-day to end the season. Just two series against sub-.500 teams. Finishing out with seven of 10 against the Rangers. Good luck, Oakland. You need it to hold off the …

2. Los Angeles Angels
Opponents' winning percentage: .538
Home/road: 16/12
Off-days: Sept. 6, 17, 24
Games vs. teams over .500: 19 of 28
Key series: vs. Oakland, Sept. 10-13
Overview: Apparently the Angels took their Lithium this week. They're going to need a double dose starting Tuesday when they begin their stretch run with an Oakland-Detroit-Oakland 10-game gantlet. The seven games against Oakland especially may help determine whether either of the West wild-card contenders can sneak past the East's duel entry. A nine-game homestand would help the Angels' cause if it didn't start off with Texas and Chicago. At least they can take solace in the cruelty handed out annually to the …

3. Tampa Bay Rays
Opponents' winning percentage: .530
Home/road: 16/12
Off-days: Sept. 6, 10, 24
Games vs. teams over .500: 19 of 28
Key series: vs. Baltimore, Oct. 1-3

Overview: There's something about Tampa Bay and wretched September schedules. The Rays overcame the worst last year. Now they've got six more series against teams in playoff position, including a pair against the Yankees and Orioles and two more out-of-division matchups against the other division leaders. The good news: The Rays don't have any long trips and will spend most of the month at home. Well, sort of good. Tampa Bay is actually better on the road than at the Empty Can. Maybe one of these days the fans will show up in St. Petersburg like they're starting to with the …

4. Los Angeles Dodgers
Opponents' winning percentage: .525
Home/road: 13/14
Off-days: Sept. 6, 10, 17, 24
Games vs. teams over .500: 16 of 27
Key series: vs. San Francisco, Oct. 1-3
Overview: No other National League team's opponents' winning percentage is over .500. In one stretch, the Dodgers play 14 of 18 on the road, including series against three playoff teams. The travel isn't fun, either: L.A. to Washington to Cincinnati to San Diego. While the long trips include off-days – the Dodgers' four seem to be their only saving grace – that doesn't lessen the challenge for a team looking more and more like a wild-card hope. The best they can hope for: Sunday's comeback win jump-starts a streak that can vault them into a similar position as the …

5. Texas Rangers
Opponents' winning percentage: .509
Home/road: 13/16
Off-days: Sept. 10, 17
Games vs. teams over .500: 16 of 29
Key series: at Oakland, Oct. 1-3
Overview: The Rangers' final 19 games come within the AL West, which includes the hottest team in baseball (Oakland), among the most talented (Los Angeles) and one that refuses to go away (Seattle). Would be nice if Houston had arrived a year early. Alas, the Rangers have only a pair of off-days and are in the midst of a rough travel schedule that takes them from Cleveland to Kansas City to Tampa Bay to Arlington. Take the games against the Royals out from their remaining schedule, and their opponents' winning percentage jumps to .518, closer to the toughest of the tough than the …

6. Baltimore Orioles
Opponents' winning percentage: .504
Home/road: 14/15
Off-days: Sept. 10, 20, 27
Games vs. teams over .500: 13 of 29
Key series: at Tampa Bay, Oct. 1-3
Overview: Between the nine-game trip that includes a cross-country flight and the only doubleheader among the 15 contenders, the Orioles' schedule isn't kind. Outside of the series at Oakland and Seattle, Baltimore spends the entirety of its schedule inside the division, which, considering its AL East-best 28-21 record within, may not be such a bad thing. Everyone keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, but after taking the weekend series the O's are only two games behind the …

[ Yahoo! Sports Radio: Passan: Nats resolute on sitting Stephen Strasburg]

7. New York Yankees
Opponents' winning percentage: .495
Home/road: 12/17
Off-days: Sept. 10, 17
Games vs. teams over .500: 13 of 29
Key series: at Baltimore, Sept. 6-9
Overview: Once the Yankees get past this mother of an upcoming roadie – at Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston for a combined 10 games – it's relatively smooth sailing. A pair of series against Toronto. Another at Minnesota. Of their final 19 games, 12 come at home. It's not an easy schedule, by any means, but it's the easiest of the contenders in the AL's coastal divisions. Now, if we tiered these things, the Yankees would be at the bottom of the top tier, with a huge drop between them and the …

8. Washington Nationals
Opponents' winning percentage: .483
Home/road: 17/12
Off-days: Sept. 13, 17
Games vs. teams over .500: 9 of 29
Key series: at St. Louis, Sept. 28-30
Overview: Even if the Nationals' struggles had continued, the beginning of their stretch run is a nice way for any team to get healthy: Cubs, Marlins, Mets. Granted, it's part of a 16-games-in-16-days stretch – the same sort with which the Nats will end their season, making their two off-days within a five-day stretch rather unkind. Washington's season ends with six games against Philadelphia sandwiched around a series against the Cardinals that should be important if only for seeding purposes, as they try to hold off the …

9. Atlanta Braves
Opponents' winning percentage: .481
Home/road: 13/15
Off-days: Sept. 13, 20, 24
Games vs. teams over .500: 6 of 28
Key series: vs. Washington, Sept. 14-16
Overview: Based on the number of over-.500 teams they face, the Braves would seem to have the fluffiest, most decadent cake walk left. Here's the thing: no Cubs, no Astros. While such series aren't gimmes per se, their seasonlong ineptitude matters, and the worst team Atlanta gets is Colorado at the beginning of an upcoming Rockies-Mets-Brewers swing in which they hope to make up ground on Washington. The Braves have nicely spaced-out off-days and no long trips, too. Only the excess of road games keeps them from having a better schedule than the …

10. San Francisco Giants
Opponents' winning percentage: .474
Home/road: 16/12
Off-days: Sept. 6, 13, 24
Games vs. teams over .500: 6 of 28
Key series: at Los Angeles, Oct. 1-3
Overview: The Giants also get 22 of 28 teams under .500, which is the prize for playing the entire month against the NL West. Of course, the season standings don't exactly reflect how well the Padres are playing or how poor the Dodgers have been of late. Still, the Giants are in the catbird's seat not only because of their 4 ½-game lead but because 16 of their next 22 games are at AT&T Park. Which, though an advantage, isn't nearly the same it would be for a team with the best home record in baseball, the …

11. Cincinnati Reds
Opponents' winning percentage: .469
Home/road: 15/12
Off-days: Sept. 6, 13, 17, 24
Games vs. teams over .500: 9 of 27
Key series: at St. Louis, Oct. 1-3
Overview: Talk about the rich getting richer. Cincinnati has a genuine shot at 100 wins with its schedule. The Reds start September with 15 consecutive games against teams under .500 and 15 of their first 21 games come at home – and the road games are against Miami and Chicago. Cincinnati's four off-days are tied for the most of any team. Ending the season in Pittsburgh and St. Louis isn't the kindest twist, but the Reds will have a playoff spot locked up by then and figure a top seed is in play, too. Avoiding the play-in game is every team's imperative, something best understood by the team not wanting to burn Justin Verlander for a one-game coin flip, the …

[Tim Brown: Josh Beckett's home debut gives Dodgers hope]

12. Detroit Tigers
Opponents' winning percentage: .469
Home/road: 13/16
Off-days: Sept. 6, 17
Games vs. teams over .500: 10 of 29
Key series: at Chicago, Sept. 10-13
Overview: Welcome back to the AL, where the Comedy Central again gifts both of the leftover contenders the opportunity to sneak into the playoffs because of their opponents. Yes, the Tigers have only two off-days, and, sure, they end the season with 16 games in 16 days. They also have a 10-game home stretch. And the scheduling gods allowed them this gantlet to close things out: Minnesota, Kansas City, Minnesota, Kansas City. The only easier September/October in the AL belongs to the one team the Tigers wish it didn't, the …

13. Chicago White Sox
Opponents' winning percentage: .469
Home/road: 17/12
Off-days: Sept. 6, 17
Games vs. teams over .500: 11 of 29
Key series: vs. Detroit, Sept. 10-13
Overview: First comes a 10-game homestand with series against Minnesota and Kansas City before a huge four-game set with Detroit. Nine games on the road follow, and the first six come in Minnesota and K.C. And six of the White Sox's final 10 games are against Cleveland, which has been the AL's version of Houston. The White Sox are 12 games over .500 at home, and they've got nearly 60 percent of their remaining games there, and only the lack of teams with historic futility keeps them ahead of the …

14. Pittsburgh Pirates
Opponents' winning percentage: .456
Home/road: 15/14
Off-days: Sept. 6, 13
Games vs. teams over .500: 9 of 29
Key series: at New York Mets, Sept. 24-27
Overview: If Pittsburgh can't parlay this schedule into its first postseason appearance in 20 seasons, maybe the Pirates are cursed. For the remainder of the season, the Pirates face 29 games against the equivalent of a 74-win team. They're the only team that gets to feed on the mother's milk of Houston and Chicago twice. While some pitfalls exist – the 14 of 17 games on the road, and especially finishing the season with 20 games in 20 days – chew on this: From now until the end of the Mets series, their opponents' winning percentage is .423 – a 68-win team. It's a shame, then, the team immediately ahead of them is the only one with a more favorable schedule, the …

15. St. Louis Cardinals
Opponents' winning percentage: .466
Home/road: 15/13
Off-days: Sept. 6, 17, 27
Games vs. teams over .500: 10 of 28
Key series: at Houston, Sept. 24-26
Overview: The defending champions should win a playoff spot between Sept. 18-26. During those nine glorious days, they face this schedule: Houston, Chicago, Houston. That is why from now through the 26th, the combined winning percentage of St. Louis' opponents is .427. If Washington and Cincinnati have locked up their divisions and are more keen on lining up their rotations than playing for postseason seeding, the Cardinals' final six games could be against skeleton lineups, too. All of this, plus more games at home than on the road, and off-days just when a team needs them, and the Cardinals make the …

16. Oakland A's really, really jealous. Then again, what more can the A's do? They've won nine straight after their thorough dismantling of the Red Sox over the weekend. Their 76-57 record is the same as the Yankees' and the fourth best in the game behind only Cincinnati, Washington and Texas. And all for about a quarter of what New York will spend on payroll this season.

Between now and Oct. 3, the A's will play the equivalent of Tampa Bay or Chicago every single day – and, unless Texas fades, all for the privilege of a single, solitary game that would just as soon slay their season as it would reward it. Thus is life these days, when the 162 games that mean everything can mean nothing so fast.

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