Major League Baseball released its schedule for the 2011 season late Tuesday night. Luckily for you, dear readers, I have no life and was able to comb through it to give you the following nuggets about what to expect next season*:
*Disclaimer: the season hasn't even ended yet. Many of these records will change. Many of the good teams won't be good next season. Some of the bad teams will be good. Take this for a grain of salt.
The biggest change to the 2011 schedule is the timing. Opening Day will be April 1st (no fooling!) and the last game of the season will be on Sep. 28. How did baseball condense the schedule to avoid those annoying October games? Well, for one, the Astros will have one less off-day during the season.
In 2010, the Astros had 20 total off-days spread out over the season, including a whopping 7 in July. In 2011, they'll have 19 total with three apiece in April, May and June, five in July and five total in August and September. As the months wear on, the 2011 season could be very interesting from a health and rest perspective. Luckily, the 2011 Houston Astros look to be a pretty youthful team that can handle the grind.
To get out of the business of October regular season baseball, MLB simply moved the schedule up. By starting April 1, they are forced to start the season on a Friday, but will likely avoid having to play playoff games in November.
Another change for the Astros next year are their interleague opponents. Gone are Kansas City and the New York Yankees.
In their stead are a three-game road series in Toronto and a three-game home series against Boston. The Astros keep Texas and Tampa Bay on the schedule, which can't be a good sign for Houston's win-loss record. The Astros went 3-12 against interleague opponents in 2010 and all four of their opponents in 2011 have winning records this season.
The schedule also breaks down with another tough first half. The Astros will play five teams currently over .500 in April and May and six in June. If the Dodgers can eke over .500 by the end of the season (they're currently at 72-73), that means seven of Houston's nine series in June will be with teams over .500. If the Cubs return to respectability next season, flush with a new manager and new hope, that leaves the Pirates as the only patsy on the schedule for June. That could be a rough month.
May is no better, as Milwaukee, the Mets and Chicago all have losing records but could be contenders next season. If Arizona could get consistent pitching, they could also improve dramatically. Even if only two of those four teams improves and maybe one of the Cincinnati, St. Louis, LA or Toronto fall off a bit, the Astros are in for a grueling two-month stretch.
April is no better, as Houston will face only three teams in four series that are under .500. Milwaukee, Chicago and the Mets. Oh, and I already mentioned all three of those teams could be dramatically better. Throw in a wildcard team in the Florida Marlins and the Astros don't have a non-tough series until the third in May, at Pittsburgh.
July could provide the easiest schedule, despite featuring the Red Sox. Houston has two series with the Pirates, one against Washington and one against every other member of the NL Central (except Cincinnati). Given the Astros dominance intra-division this season, July could make for another late-season turnaround.
August could hold the toughest 10-game stretch for Houston, with three at home against San Francisco, three at Colorado and four at San Fran. The Astros went 2-7 against the Giants this season and 4-2 against Colorado.
In September, Houston will have to deal with a three game set at home against Philadelphia and close with three at Cincinnati, four against Colorado at home and three against St. Louis at home. I don't expect the Astros to be in the playoff chase then, but they could shape some destinies with that closing kick.
Now, here's a few words from some of the other TCB writers on the schedule:
What series stands out to you?
timmy: Arnsberg's return to Toronto May 20th - May 22nd. Also the first time they've ever been to Toronto.
Evan: April 1, Opening Day: So, Opening Day is on a Friday next season? Blasphemy. I hate change. At least we have old reliable Roy O to start it all off...
April 26, First game against St. Louis: After forcing the trade of young slugger Colby Rasmus, manager and veteran lover Tony LaRussa forced to take whiskey shot before penciling in "Skip Schumaker" as his center fielder in the Cardinals' lineup card, while his new favorite player Jason Michaels wonders just how he managed to have another club sign him to a major league contract
May 6, First game against Pittsburgh: An off season full of payroll cutting and sending spring training invitations to starting pitchers with 4.0 K/9 ratios leads Pirate management to convince the Steelers to offer free Steeler tickets to every fan who attends a Pirates game. Steeler officials forecast losing upwards of $78 in this business deal.
May 29, last game of series at Arizona: D-Backs' stadium sees first sellout of young season as retirement-home-dwelling former Illinoisans arrive 36 hours early in typical old person fashion for opener of Monday's series opener vs. the Cubs
Subber10: September 2-4 at home aginst Brewers: Hopeful Debut of Jordan Lyles and maybe a few others like J.D. Martinez and Dallas Keuchel!
April 5th and 6th at Cincinatti against the Reds. It'll be the first starts of the season for the backend of the rotation, probably Paulino and Norris. For this team to think about competing next year, they will have rely heavily on their arms with the lack of what many call a true "ace." It'll be a tough way to start off the year for both of them, but a quick start of the year would really help.
clack: That's a tough opening month. The only teams which aren't current playoff contenders are the Marlins, the Brewers and Cubs, and those teams are capable of giving the Astros a tough time.