Halfway point: The Athletics' schedule is about to get easier in one big way

Cheer up, kid, we're going home soon. - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Did the A's lose to the Tigers, or to MLB's schedule-makers?

Well that sucked. The Detroit Tigers just thoroughly dominated the Oakland Athletics for three days in the Motor City. If you watched the games, then I would like to publicly apologize on behalf of the A's. It wasn't entirely their fault.

The A's have made five road trips so far this season, and every single one has hit three different cities. I don't know how many three-city trips other teams have, but I'm assuming that this is something MLB standardizes across the league. Everybody probably has five different three-city trips; I randomly chose the Angels to check, and they will indeed have five such ventures.

However, the A's had all five in a row to start the season. Here is how they fared in the final stop of each of these trips:

@ LAA, April 14-16:  2-1
@ Bos, May 2-4: 1-2
@ Tor, May 23-25: 0-3
@ LAA, June 9-11: 1-2
@ Det, June 30-32: 0-3

(Quick notes: Yes, the Angels will finish a three-city trip in August with a visit to Oakland, so that goes both ways. However, one of their three-city trips ends at Dodger Stadium, which shouldn't really count because that's basically home. Also note that four of those five opponents are excellent teams, so it's not Oakland was losing to pushovers.)

That's a total of 4-11 in the final stops of three-city trips. The first Angels series actually went quite well, probably because everyone was still fresh in mid-April. Otherwise, they have looked like zombies in these series. The bats go silent, or the pitchers just lie down, or both.

Now, let me make my point clear. I'm not suggesting that MLB is out to get the A's. I'm not suggesting that this is in any way unfair. I'm not crying foul here. I am confident that the schedule-makers do the absolute best they can and that this was among the most optimal ways to organize the schedule. Yes, it's lame to send the A's from Oakland to New York to Miami to Detroit and then back to Oakland, but they did give the team two off-days in one week to make up for it. There are objective rules that they go by here to ensure fairness in scheduling, and that's good enough for me. (Even if it is stupid to play your entire seven-game season series against a team in a 10-day span, but that's a complaint for another column.)

No, my point is to highlight a major silver lining in this week's devastating losses. The Athletics have played the fourth-toughest schedule in the Majors so far, according to ESPN, and that's only taking into account the winning percentages of their opponents (.506). That's even more impressive when you consider that they haven't had to play the best team in the league, since you can't play against yourself. If you factor in their five three-city trips -- which I assume is the most that any team will have this season -- then that means they must have had the single most difficult travel schedule as well. And their location on the coast probably helps them trump any other team that also got all five long trips out of the way already, since it means longer flights east and more jet lag.

So, that's the bad news. The A's have gotten chewed up and spit out by their travel schedule.

Here's the good news. They made it through the gauntlet with the best record in MLB (51-33) and a three-game division lead over the streaking Angels. And now, with those five trips out of the way, they will not spend more than seven consecutive days on the road for the rest of the season and they will not hit a third city on any remaining trip. If you slice and dice Oakland's record looking for situations which led to poor performances, that 4-11 mark in third-city series is just about the only weakness you'll find. Well, other than games in which Jim Johnson pitched. With that glaring weakness out of the way, what else stands in between Oakland and its path to glory?

(Besides Justin Verlander.)

***

(Note: The A's are 12-3 in the second city of a road trip, including stops in Seattle, Texas, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Miami.)

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