Usually, I’d wait until September to post something about remaining schedules for the Cubs and teams they’re competing with, but it looks like we might now have a four-team race in the N.L. Central.
As of Friday morning just three games separate first place in the division from fourth place. The Cardinals, who were 5½ games out of first place on August 1, now trail by just one game and are riding a six-game winning streak. The Brewers, who led the division by 5½ games at the All-Star break, are 9-17 since the break and just got swept in a four-game set by the Twins. They’re now two games out of first place. And the Pirates, who were 6½ games behind on August 2, have won six of eight since then to close to three games out.
The Cubs, who have been alone in first place since July 26, are 6-7 since then. They’re going to have to do better to maintain their lead in the division.
Here are the remaining schedules for all four teams. (Note, none of these teams are playing five-, six-, or seven-game series against anyone; that’s just the total remaining games against that opponent, home or road.)
Cubs (49 games: 26 home, 23 road)
At this moment, the Cubs have 19 games remaining against teams currently over .500. That could change if the Brewers keep free-falling; it would eliminate those seven games from that list. On the other hand, the Pirates could move over .500. There are quite a few games left against teams like this, near the .500 mark. On the other hand, the Cubs have 13 games remaining against last-place teams (Reds and Phillies), and several more home games than road games.
Cardinals (47 games: 22 home, 25 road)
Home: Braves (3), Padres (3), Rays (3), Pirates (3), Reds (3), Cubs (4), Brewers (3)
The Cardinals still have to play a pair of A.L. East teams, plus 10 against the Pirates, as well as more games away from Busch Stadium, where they are currently 26-30.
Brewers (45 games: 21 home, 24 road)
Home: Reds (3), Pirates (5), Cardinals (2), Nationals (4), Cubs (4), Reds (3)
The Brewers would appear to have the toughest schedule of any of the contenders here, with a nine-game swing through the N.L. West, as well as having to face the Nats at home. The Cubs are currently 7-5 vs. the Brewers this year, with seven games remaining.
Pirates (47 games: 23 home, 24 road)
Home: Cardinals (4), Dodgers (4), Reds (3), Cubs (4), Brewers (3), Cardinals (3), Orioles (2)
Road: Blue Jays (3), Brewers (5), Reds (6), Cubs (3), Cardinals (3), Nationals (4)
The Pirates have a lot of games left against the Reds (nine), but have to finish the season on the road at Washington. The Nats will have long ago clinched the N.L. East by then — will the Pirates still be in contention? And if so, how tough will the Nats play them?
Ranking the schedules, I’d place the Cubs as “easiest,” though it’s close. The Cubs do have the most remaining home games, and no other team has more home games than road games. The Cubs have the only winning road record of any of the four teams, and they have the best intradivisional record of any of the teams:
Record within N.L. Central
Conclusion: If schedules hold true to form, the Cubs should win the N.L. Central with a comfortable margin of around four or five games. But things don’t always hold to form in baseball. The Cubs are going to have to step up their game over the season’s remaining weeks.