The 2020 MLB season will be unusual in many ways, one of which being that teams will only play against their own geographic divisions. That means the Oakland A’s will only face opponents from the AL West and NL West, and never see any Central or East teams. Their 60-game schedule will consist of 40 against the AL West (10 vs. each team), and 20 against the NL West (4 vs. each team).
Such an unbalanced scheduled will have an effect on the standings, as each isolated region will add up to different levels of competition. That could matter in the Wild Card races, where a softer schedule can lead to an advantage in raw win-loss totals. How might that affect the A’s?
The AL West is one of the tougher divisions in the majors right now, but that’s partly because the A’s are in it, giving it a second top-shelf contender alongside the Astros. The Angels and Rangers both finished below .500 last year but are capable of posting winning records in any given year, and only the Mariners look like a dud.
However, one-third of the A’s games will come against the NL West, which is much weaker. The Dodgers are great and the D’Backs nearly made the playoffs last year, but the Giants, Rockies, and Padres figure to be bad. Add it up and the A’s will play 14 games against heavyweights (HOU, LAD), 24 against teams that might be good (LAA, TEX, ARZ), and another 22 against doormats (SEA, SFG, SDG, COL).
That schedule breakdown is on the easier side, though that’s partly because the A’s are one of the better teams in the league and they don’t have to play themselves. The Mariners, for example, play 24 games against heavyweights, while an also-ran NL West counterpart like the Padres plays 18.
Still, the toughest place to be is the East, where both leagues have two heavyweights — Yankees and Rays in the AL, Braves and defending-champion Nationals in the NL. Each of them has to play 18 games against each other, and all the medium/bad teams have to play 28 games against that elite quartet, nearly half their entire season. There are also three more solid clubs who were .500 or better last year (BOS, NYM, PHI), and only three really weak ones (BAL, TOR, MIA) — and I might be too hard on the Blue Jays, whose young future-stars could break out at any time.
The easiest region is the Central, but not by as much as it might appear. They’re light on premium contenders — really only the Twins — but deep with solid competition. The Indians, White Sox, Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, and Reds are all varying levels of either playoff-caliber, above-.500, or on the rise. Only the Royals, Tigers, and Pirates look like pushovers. So, while the Indians will play only 10 games against a true heavyweight, they’ll also have 26 more against potentially good teams. The Reds will only have four against the Twins, but another 38 against quality opponents and only 18 against doormats.
Add it all up, and I’d say the toughest region is clearly the East, and the easiest is the Central. That puts the West in the middle, but the AL West is more difficult than the NL side. The A’s get a slightly tough draw with this geographic setup, especially when you factor in that West teams will have by far the greatest amount of travel, but it’s not the worst schedule possible. I’d rather be in Oakland’s position than anywhere in the East.
And frankly, if the A’s are firing on all cylinders this year, I like their chances against any opponent anyway.