As the Astros start a road trip against NL Central foes, it may be a good time to look at the relative schedules so far for the teams near the top of the division standings. The schedule tells us a little bit about the road that the teams took to get to their current record. Since the schedules tend to even out over the full season, we can infer which teams may face greater difficulty in the future.
Most teams tend to produce better records at home than on the road, and the NL Central teams are no exception. In fact, the Cubs have held on to the top spot in the NL Central with a fabulous 20-8 record at home, compared to a pedestrian 10-13 record on the road. The two teams below the Cubs, the Astros and Cardinals, have performed somewhat better on the road, but still prefer playing at home (home: Astros 15-9, Cardinals 17-10; road: Astros 14-14, Cardinals 13-12).
If the home/road differential means anything, then the Astros have stayed in the thick of the race despite playing more road games than the Cubs and Cardinals. The home/road games played so far:
Based on only the remaining percentage of games at home, the Astros would appear to have a relatively easier path at some point in the future. However, the home/road split doesn't account for how strong the opposition has been for each team. This is difficult to quantify, though. The strength of opposing teams is a moving target. An example: the Rockies looked like a mediocre opponent early last season, but they became perhaps the toughest opponent on anyone's schedule by the end of last season. Sometimes luck plays a role, meaning that no one can predict when they will play a team which is hot or cold. (As an aside: I'm glad the Phillies' blazing bats left town...after scoring 15 runs against the Astros Sunday, they turned around and scored 20 runs against the Rockies Monday.)
ESPN publishes a "strength of schedule" weighting for each team.Link I'm not sure what goes into the SOS ranking, and so I don't know how much credence I give it. But I'll show the SOS ranking anyway for the Cubs, Cards, and Astros:
Strength of Schedule (weighting / rank out of 30 teams)
Cubs .503/ 9th
Cardinals .481/ 30th
Astros .498/ 17th
If you accept those numbers, then perhaps the Cubs' favorable home schedule has been been offset partly by the strength of opponents. The Astros have played more road games, but the opponents were slightly below average in strength. On the other hand, tonight's opponent, the Cardinals, have played more home than road games, and supposedly faced the weakest strength of schedule in MLB so far.
The Brewers were projected by many as the NL Central pre-season favorites, but have fallen on hard times. However, the tough schedule which the Brewers have played may give them some hope to get back in the race. The Brewers have played 20 home games and 31 road games. The Brewers are also ranked 2d in strength of schedule, according to ESPN.
Maybe none of this means much. But I have to think that the Astros are in good shape if they can stay in contention over the next month.