The M’s and SOS
By Gary Hill
The Seattle Mariners are set to tackle a serious challenge the rest of this baseball season. It is fitting with kickoff of the NFL season over the weekend that this challenge is usually only spoken of in football terms. The M’s have 21 games left in their season and all but three of their remaining contests will pit them against teams with at least 77 wins.
Texas- 83 wins- 6 games remaining
Oakland- 79 wins- 3 games remaining
Baltimore- 78 wins- 3 games remaining
LA Angels- 77 wins- 6 games remaining
Toronto- 64 wins- 3 games remaining
The Mariners have struggled against teams above .500 this year (35-52 .402%). After their next three games they will exclusively be playing teams above .500 the rest of the way which will make finishing strong in the win/loss column a giant challenge. On the other hand, they have excelled versus teams below .500 on the season (33-21 .611%).
The Mariners record against teams above .500 has been an issue this year, but the problem has been exacerbated by the volume of games against top tier teams. Right now the Mariners have played 87 games against teams above .500 and 54 games below .500.
Strength of schedule is often cited as an important factor of analysis for a team playing in the NFL. However, SOS is not often a discussion point in baseball. There are so many games in a baseball season that a common thought is that strength of schedules evens out. They often don’t. The Seattle Mariners play in a division where every single team in above .500. Meanwhile, in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds have feasted on the two worst teams in baseball. The Reds are 19-8 combined against the Cubs and Astros this year. The Washington Nationals have the most wins in baseball and they have won 13 of 15 against the same bottom two teams in baseball. In the M’s own division, the Rangers have beaten the Astros 5 of 6 times thanks to their status as Natural Rivals.
Take a look at the following chart to see how much the Reds and Nationals in particular have used their schedules to their advantage:
What if the splits between the above/below .500 teams the Mariners have played looked more like the balance the Nationals have enjoyed? If the Mariners had played 47 teams above .500 and 92 teams below .500 and won at the exact same rate in both categories they are doing right now their record would be 77-64.
The argument is not that they would be a playoff team if their schedule were different. The point is that schedules matter and should be taken into account when analyzing performance. This exercise also points out the major difference, if only for the short-term, the Astros shifting to the AL West will impact all of MLB.