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Does anyone have the scheduling edge in the N.L. Central for the rest of the season?

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A look at the remaining strength of schedule in the Cubs

Kyle Schwarber hits a grand slam in Milwaukee
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Last year around this time I looked into the remaining strength of schedule to see if anyone in the N.L. Central had an edge for the rest of the season. To do that, I invented my own methodology for characterizing series as hard/moderate/easy (more on that below) and then tallied up the number of games left. With the division race tighter than ever I decided to update those charts and see if they tell us anything interesting about 2019. I also decided to take a look at the Cubs remaining home/away splits since they’ve been so dramatic this season.

Methodology

Just like last year, I looked up each team’s win percentage to date, their Fangraphs playoff expectancy percent and their FiveThirtyEight.com playoff expectancy percent. Once I had those numbers I assigned scored based on where they fit according to the following:

Win percentage over .550 = 3 points, .500 to .549 = 2 points, .450 to .499 = 1 point, under .449 = 0 points.

Fangraphs playoff expectancy percent over 67 = 3 points, 33 to 66 percent = 2 points, 10 to 33 percent = 1 point, 9 percent and under = 0 points.

FiveThirtyEight playoff expectancy percent over 67 = 3 points, 33 to 66 percent = 2 points, 10 to 33 percent = 1 point, 9 percent and under = 0 points.

Winning percentage is pretty straight forward. I looked for breaks that signaled seasons that were dominant, competitive, okay and poor.

I used both Fangraphs and FiveThirtyEight for playoff expectancy because both use models to run seasons through thousands of time to determine those odds, however they both use slightly different data to inform their model. The point system provided me with a way to compare across different systems.

The N.L. Central in two charts

After all of the math above I wound up with two charts. The first is a bit messy, but for people who love the underlying data I wanted to include it. It tells you how many games remain for each team in the division plus the information behind their Sara Score:

N.L. Central Opponents and Remaining Schedule

Team Winning Pct Playoff Pct FG Playoff Pct 538 Cubs GR Brewers GR Cardinals GR Pirates GR Reds GR Sara Score
Team Winning Pct Playoff Pct FG Playoff Pct 538 Cubs GR Brewers GR Cardinals GR Pirates GR Reds GR Sara Score
Brewers .523 37.1 36 10 9 6 3 6
Cardinals .533 47.8 53 10 9 6 8 6
Oakland .561 22.5 40 3 3 2 6
Reds .471 4.8 8 7 3 8 8 1
Phillies .524 21.6 37 3 3 4 5
Pirates .434 0.1 0.1 9 6 6 8 1
Giants .509 8 9 3 4 4 2
Nationals .538 83.2 66 3 3 3 4 3 8
Mets .476 14.5 10 3 3 3 1
Mariners .422 0.1 0.1 2 3 3 0
Padres .472 1.7 1 4 4 3 1
Cubs .533 75.7 64 10 10 9 7 7
Astros .636 99.9 99 2 9
Rockies .467 1.6 3 3 7 4 1
Rangers .500 0.1 0.1 3 2
Twins .610 96 93 2 9
Diamondbacks .495 7.7 17 3 3 6 1
Marlins .394 0.1 0.1 4 3 4 0
Dodgers .639 99.9 99 3 9
Royals .370 0.1 0.1 2 0
Braves .579 96.2 95 4 9
Angels .509 0.7 2 3 2 2
Total Games Remaining 57 55 57 56 58
Winning percentage and Playoff Odds for the NL Central and their opponents Fangraphs, MLB, fivethirtyeight, compiled by Sara Sanchez

For those of you who don’t need (or want) to see all of the math underlying this argument, the next chart is for you. I basically took each of those Sara Scores and broke them into tiers. 6 to 9 is a hard game, 3 to 5 is a moderate or average game, 0 to 2 is an easy game. With those breaks we wind up with this for the remaining schedule:

Games remaining by difficulty

Team Total games 6-9 Total games 3-5 Total games 0-2 Total Games Percentage of "Hard" Games Percentage of "Average" Games Percentage of "Easy" Games
Team Total games 6-9 Total games 3-5 Total games 0-2 Total Games Percentage of "Hard" Games Percentage of "Average" Games Percentage of "Easy" Games
Cubs 26 3 28 57 45.61% 5.26% 49.12%
Brewers 29 3 23 55 52.73% 5.45% 41.82%
Cardinals 27 0 30 57 47.37% 0.00% 52.63%
Pirates 25 6 25 56 44.64% 10.71% 44.64%
Reds 25 6 27 58 43.10% 10.34% 46.55%
Sara Sanchez

One thing jumped out at me right away that was a lot different than last year’s chart. There are basically only easy or hard games left for almost every team in the division except the Reds and Pirates who each have six “average” games remaining. Every other team has three or fewer “average” games on their schedule. The Cubs have already finished their season series with the Astros, Dodgers and Braves, so they have slightly fewer “hard” games than some of their division opponents, however, the Cubs are also going to have to play a much improved Nationals team later this year.

This chart doesn’t tell the whole story for the Cubs, though.

Remaining home/road series

For reasons I cannot even begin to articulate, the 2019 Cubs are functionally two different teams. At home they are a juggernaut and look every bit as intimidating as the Dodgers or Astros. On the road they are one of the worst teams in baseball. Their home record is 36-18 which is a .667 winning percentage. Their away record is 20-31 which is good for a .392 winning percentage. To put this in perspective, the Marlins have a .394 overall winning percentage in 2019.

So, the last chart in this post shows the remaining schedule for each team in the NL Central with their home/away win percentages and a projection of their remaining number of wins if they play to their current level of performance for the rest of 2019. Obviously there is no such thing as .009 of a win, so I rounded:

Projected NL Central wins by home/away splits

Team Home Win Pct Away Win Pct Home GR Away GR Exp Home Wins Exp Away Wins
Team Home Win Pct Away Win Pct Home GR Away GR Exp Home Wins Exp Away Wins
Cubs .667 .392 27 30 18 12
Brewers .579 .460 24 31 14 14
Cardinals .569 .500 30 27 17 14
Reds .528 .412 28 31 15 13
Pirates .460 .411 31 25 14 10
Baseball Reference and Sara Sanchez

There’s no easy way to say this, if the final two months of the season look like the first four months of the season the Cardinals will edge the Cubs out in the N.L. Central by one game and the Cubs will find themselves in the Wild Card fight once again. They can do a lot to improve their 2019 playoff chances by improving how they’ve played on the road in 2019.

Takeaways

It was always clear that the N.L. Central was going to be a tight division in 2019. Every projection system except PECOTA projected some version of this, and it appears to be correct.

The Cubs front office took a little heat for their motto of “Every Game Matters” coming into 2019, but as the Cubs stare down their last 57 games tied for first place and ready to start a three-game series with the Cardinals, that saying appears to be on point. They are going to need to improve that road win percentage if they want to play in October for the fifth season in a row. There is no better time to start that improvement than tonight in St. Louis.