The conventional wisdom has been that the Yankees are at a distinct disadvantage coming down the stretch because the Rays schedule is significantly easier. And, on the surface, that seems to be the case. Factoring in home/road records, the Yankees opponents over the final 10 days are a combined 375-306 (.551), while the Rays will be facing teams that have gone 286-460 (.383). However, since September 1, the combined record of the teams left on the Yankees schedule is a less imposing 84-96 (.467), while the Rays remaining opponents are a more competitive 82-118 (.410).
In baseball, the schedule is not really about whom you play, but when you play them. For example, playing the Mariners when King Felix is on the mound is not the same as when his start comes the day before a series begins (as is the case with the Rays’ weekend series against Seattle). So, instead of breaking down the remaining schedule by team, it’s probably more useful to take a look at the pitchers each team is likely to face.
Yankees Remaining Matchups
|24-Sep||Red Sox||Josh Beckett||115||73||5.71|
|25-Sep||Red Sox||Jon Lester||197||67||3.06|
|26-Sep||Red Sox||Daisuke Matsuzaka||140 2/3||76||4.86|
|27-Sep||Blue Jays||Mark Rzepczynski||51 2/3||33||5.75|
|28-Sep||Blue Jays||Kyle Drabek||11||6||4.91|
|29-Sep||Blue Jays||Shawn Hill||16||5||2.81|
|1-Oct||Red Sox||Daisuke Matsuzaka||140 2/3||76||4.86|
|2-Oct||Red Sox||John Lackey||201 1/3||101||4.51|
|3-Oct||Red Sox||Tim Wakefield||134||77||5.17|
Rays Remaining Matchups
|24-Sep||Mariners||Jason Vargas||182 1/3||76||3.75|
|25-Sep||Mariners||Doug Fister||159 2/3||68||3.83|
|26-Sep||Mariners||Luke French||78 2/3||37||4.23|
|27-Sep||Orioles||Brian Matusz||162 2/3||83||4.59|
|29-Sep||Orioles||Kevin Millwood||183 2/3||108||5.29|
|30-Sep||Royals||Zac Greinke||209 1/3||93||4.00|
|1-Oct||Royals||Bruce Chen||124 2/3||65||4.69|
|2-Oct||Royals||Kyle Davies||174 2/3||98||5.05|
|3-Oct||Royals||Sean O’Sullivan||58 2/3||47||7.21|
Although starting pitchers are subject to change, and certain assumptions were made (i.e., Clay Buccholz’ turn comes up on the last day of the season, but the Red Sox have reportedly been talking about shutting him down beforehand) in composing the charts above, it appears as if the Yankees and Rays will be facing the same level of starting pitching. Obviously, the teams on the Rays schedule have weaker offenses, but only the Mariners have had particular trouble scoring runs of late (2.6 runs/game in September). The other four teams on the two teams’ schedules have pretty much scored at comparable rates over the final month of the season.
The Rays definitely have an easier schedule, not to mention the tie breaker in their back pocket, but by no means has the battle for the AL East been decided, assuming of course that the Yankees are still committed to winning it.