Coming off a mostly successful 2017 campaign, and with most of their best players under control for the foreseeable future, the baseball world knows that 2018 will probably be a good year for the Yankees. The acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton and Masahiro Tanaka staying put has shortened the team’s playoff and world series odds, making them a legitimate American League favorite.
Unfortunately, the top of the AL table is very talented. Cleveland, Houston and Boston also boast deep rosters with young, cost-controlled talent, making this one of the most difficult seasons to project in a long time. When you have teams that are so even in terms of talent, especially young talent that you don’t expect regression from, one of the tiebreakers could end up being strength of schedule. A season full of tough interleague or a particularly tight division could determine how the season plays out.
To that end, I compiled the Yankees’ 2018 schedule and crossed it against the projected winning percentages of their opponents (using FanGraphs’ projected standings). This yielded a projected opponent winning percentage (POW%) of .499. How does that stack up to the AL’s Big Four? See for yourself:
Cleveland gets a boost from playing in an absolute joke of a division for 2018. The Twins are projected for a .503 winning percentage, and after that no team in the AL Central is predicted to finish better than .450. The Tigers see themselves at a .445 projected winning percentage, which I find extraordinarily generous, while the Royals and White Sox fill out the field at .435 and .390 respectively. These projections don’t take into account the possibility of the Royals bringing back any of their three key free agents, and maybe you’re like me and a bit bullish on the White Sox in 2018. Regardless, barring a catastrophe, Cleveland should sail through the regular season.
The Yankees and Astros find themselves with virtually identical POW%, thanks to some interleague luck and the Angels recent resurrection from baseball anonymity. Tough NL draws against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers could pose a problem for the defending World Series champions, while the Yankees should be able to feast on their interleague opponents, the decrepit NL East.
There’s one particular stretch that may decide the AL East, as both the Red Sox and Yankees are projected for identical .564 winning percentages. After playing each other in the first series of August, the Yankees will face the White Sox, Rangers, Rays, Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles, Tigers and White Sox again, with 70% of the games in that stretch at home. Keep in mind this occurs after the July 31 non-waiver deadline, so it’s possible teams expected to be sellers, like Toronto, Baltimore or Texas, will be even less formidable than they appear now.
This stretch of games in the dog days of August become critical, as the Yankees will need to run wild over the weaker competition if they want to be real AL contenders. Six of the final dozen games of the season come against the Red Sox, including the final series of the year at Fenway Park. New York should hopefully have a playoff spot well in hand before Labor Day, and the best way to do that is beat up on a light August slate.
The Big Four AL teams are all deep enough to survive a 162-game season, but an edge here or there may be the margin needed for one or two of the top teams to really pull away. An easy division for Cleveland and ideal mid-season stretch for the Yankees could be what those two need to leave Houston and Boston behind.