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Comparing the Remaining Schedules of AL West Rivals at the One-Quarter Mark

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Who looks to have the easiest schedule from here on out? And is it a big enough difference to be noticeable?

MLB: Houston Astros at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Things have been running pretty smoothly as of late for the Astros. They’re currently on an eight-game winning streak (which hasn’t even matched their longest win streak of 2019), they have an astounding 29-15 record, and their .659 winning percentage leads the majors by a good bit.

So, to commemorate the quarter-mark of the season this week, I wanted to do something to both reflect on this hot start and look forward to the rest of the season. The recent 11-1 hot streak has been great, but at the same time, it’s also hard to argue that playing the Angels, Royals, Rangers, and Tigers for that span hasn’t been a contributing factor. And with upcoming series against the quickly-improving Red Sox (both home and away) and the Cubs, it’s pretty clear that the scheduling luck wont continue.

But let’s be realistic: the Astros’ 7.5+ game lead on the rest of the AL West would be difficult to overcome even if we thought the other teams in the division were similar in true talent level, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would make that argument.

And we’ve also already noted here that the Astros actually had a relatively difficult early-season run, compared to most other teams. For instance, the Astros have had to play all seven of their games against the Twins; the A’s and Mariners can at least point to their seven games against the Red Sox as a point of similarity, but the Angels and Rangers have yet to play anyone from outside the division for seven games, let alone a team that good. And no other AL West team can say they’ve played four of the five AL teams from other divisions with a winning record like the Astros have (and their upcoming series against the Red Sox will make for the fifth one).

So let’s just try and put some numbers behind it: how does the Astros’ remaining schedule strength look, compared to their division rivals? I looked at this a couple of different ways. First, there’s the average winning percentage of remaining opponents, the most straightforward way to do things. However, for balance, let’s also throw in Fangraphs’ Rest of Season and Full Season projections, since teams may not perform how they have been due to roster changes, or their own records might be skewed this early in the year:

Strength of Remaining Schedule

team Avg Remaining Opponent's Current Record Avg Remaining Opp.'s Rest of Season Projection Avg Remaining Opp.'s Full Season Projection
team Avg Remaining Opponent's Current Record Avg Remaining Opp.'s Rest of Season Projection Avg Remaining Opp.'s Full Season Projection
Astros 0.477 0.487 0.484
Angels 0.512 0.508 0.509
A's 0.514 0.497 0.501
Mariners 0.502 0.497 0.498
Rangers 0.502 0.500 0.501

That… isn’t at all close. Everyone else is playing something akin to an 81.3- to 83.3-win team the rest of the way, while the Astros are playing something more like a 77.3 win team. Even if you somehow don’t think the Astros are that much better than everyone else, a schedule that’s 4-6 wins easier than everyone else on top of a 7.5-game lead feels like a pretty huge gap to overcome.

Of course, there is a conflating factor here: unlike everyone else in the division, the Astros don’t have to play the Astros the rest of the way. If you aren’t convinced the Astros actually are better, for whatever reason, that would affect your interpretation the rest of the way. So let’s try it again, but with Astros games removed. How does the rest of the AL West’s schedule compare then? Let’s take another look at those same three stats:

Strength of Remaining Schedule (HOU games excluded)

team (HOU excluded) Avg Remaining Opponent's Current Record Avg Remaining Opp.'s Rest of Season Projection Avg Remaining Opp.'s Full Season Projection
team (HOU excluded) Avg Remaining Opponent's Current Record Avg Remaining Opp.'s Rest of Season Projection Avg Remaining Opp.'s Full Season Projection
Angels 0.489 0.493 0.491
A's 0.496 0.483 0.486
Mariners 0.478 0.481 0.480
Rangers 0.491 0.493 0.492
Astros 0.477 0.487 0.484

Even with games against the Astros removed, the Astros still look like they have an easier schedule than everybody else. You could maybe make an argument for the Mariners, depending on if some early underperformers live up to their expectations, but it’s close enough that you could go either way. But the larger point is, even if you want to assume that the Astros are going to go .500 against every divisional opponent from here on out, they’re still facing easier average opponents on the whole.

If you needed another point of optimism, this seems like a pretty good starting place. Even ignoring that they won’t have to face the current best team in the league, and even ignoring their early dominance against divisional foes, there are still plenty of games against teams like the White Sox, Orioles, and Blue Jays to balance out rougher patches like the upcoming run of games against the Red Sox and Cubs. It’s a pretty good time to be an Astros fan right now.