Ranking MLB contenders' schedules from easiest to hardest

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

One month from today, baseball’s regular season ends. Little is as important over the next month as a team’s schedule, and with 19 contenders – some are more “contenders” than others, but we digress – Yahoo Sports did the dirty work and analyzed the paths each team will wind from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1.

Here is a breakdown of each team’s schedule, ranked from easiest to hardest.

1. Cleveland Indians, 76-56
Opponents’ winning %: .465
Home games: 16 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 18, 25
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 9 of 29
Key series: vs. White Sox, Sept. 29-Oct.1
Overview: Currently in the midst of a three-city road swing, the defending American League champions play 16 of their final 22 games at home. The best team Cleveland faces? The Twins, whom the Indians lead by 6½ games in the AL Central. The season-ending series against the White Sox isn’t important just because it’s well in their favor. The Indians have clawed back into position for the No. 1 seed in the league – and the possibility of avoiding two games of a five-game series against Boston’s Chris Sale.

2. Washington Nationals, 81-52
Opponents’ winning %: .470
Home games: 14 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 11, 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 6 of 29
Key series: vs. Dodgers, Sept. 15-17
Overview: Take the Dodgers series out of the Nationals’ slate, and their opponents’ combined winning percentage is .445. Over the past 13 games, it’s .435 – a 92-loss team. The Nationals are too far back of the Dodgers to catch them for home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs, but a 100-win season certainly is within reach, particularly with two series against the Phillies and Braves.

3. St. Louis Cardinals, 67-66
Opponents’ winning %: .473
Home games: 13 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 11, 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 10 of 29
Key series: vs. Cubs, Sept. 25-27
Overview: The Cardinals need to pass Milwaukee and gain five games on Colorado to grab the second wild card, so they need a schedule like this. Over the next two weeks, their opponents are playing .433 ball. The Cardinals’ final 22 games come against the NL Central, and the only above-.500 games they face are two series against the Cubs and one against the Brewers. If anything is giving them a pulse – well, anything beyond the excitement of Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty in the major league rotation with the prospect of Alex Reyes joining them at some point next year – it’s St. Louis’ schedule.

Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant (right) celebrates with teammate Ben Zobrist (left) at home plate. (AP)

4. Chicago Cubs, 73-60
Opponents’ winning %: .482
Home games: 15 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 11, 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 14 of 29
Key series: at Brewers, Sept. 21-24
Overview: Twelve of the next 16 games at home. Out-of-division series against the Braves, Mets and Rays. Milwaukee as the best opponent. The Cubs are living well, and they need to be, with the Brewers’ deficit still just 3½ games. There to play spoiler: The Cardinals, who certainly wouldn’t mind being the ones to knock Chicago out of a playoff spot. A good next two weeks for the Cubs could make that moot.

5. Minnesota Twins, 70-63
Opponents’ winning %: .485
Home games: 12 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 11, 25
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 6 of 29
Key series: at Yankees, Sept. 18-20
Overview: It’s true: No AL wild-card contender has a more favorable schedule than the one in possession today of the second slot. They don’t play a team with a winning record until Sept. 18, when they head to the Bronx. And after that, seven of their final 10 games come against the Tigers, who on Thursday dumped two of their three best players this season. The rebuilding Twins, already a playoff team? It’s the AL. Up is down, left is right and “Look What You Made Me Do” is good. So why not?

6. Los Angeles Dodgers, 91-41
Opponents’ winning %: .476
Home games: 13 of 30
Off-days: Sept. 14, 28
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 13 of 30
Key series: at Rockies, Sept. 29-Oct. 1
Overview: First, the bad. The Dodgers get only two days off and must play 30 games, including an early month doubleheader. Now, the good. Expanded rosters allow them to rest whomever they want without a care in the world, since they’re not going to blow an advantage this big. And two series against the Padres and Giants, plus one against the Phillies, more than balances out seven games against the Rockies, three against Arizona and a series against Washington. The only question at this point is how far past 100 the Dodgers get.

7. New York Yankees, 71-62
Opponents’ winning %: .502
Home games: 17 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 7, 21
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 13 of 29
Key series: vs. Red Sox, Sept. 1-3
Overview: Once they get past the Indians-Red Sox 1-2 punch of this week – about as tough as it gets for any AL team – and finish a nine-game road trip, the Yankees finish with 14 of 17 games at home, where they’re 12 games over .500. New York can take some solace in that after this week, the best team it will face is … Minnesota. A potential wild-card preview?

8. Houston Astros, 80-53
Opponents’ winning %: .484
Home games: 12 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 7, 11, 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 10 of 29
Key series: at Red Sox, Sept. 28-Oct. 1
Overview: Earlier this week, this was going to be ranked among the toughest schedules because of the assumption the Astros would need to play their current series against the Mets away from Houston. Playing at home gives them at least a slight respite before a nine-game West Coast swing. While the Astros end the season with 13 days in a row without one off, only that last series against Boston is intimidating – particularly with a rematch in the offing should they not maintain the No. 1 seed.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks, 76-58
Opponents’ winning %: .494
Home games: 13 of 28
Off-days: Sept. 7, 21, 28
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 10 of 28
Key series: vs. Rockies, Sept. 11-14
Overview: They just swept the Dodgers, and they’ll get another chance next week. Arizona’s schedule becomes far more forgiving once that’s over. And with the Diamondbacks’ last 15 games at San Francisco, at San Diego, hosting Miami and the Giants, and going to visit Kansas City, their hopes for a wild-card spot look better and better. Do to Colorado in seven games the next two weeks what they did to the Dodgers, and the Diamondbacks won’t just get hoping. The playoffs will be theirs.

10. Miami Marlins, 66-67
Opponents’ winning %: .478
Home games: 16 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 11, 21
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 12 of 29
Key series: vs. Nationals Sept. 4-6
Overview: The Marlins play two schedules. Out of the division, they face Arizona, Colorado and Milwaukee. Add a series against the Nationals, and yikes. Then there’s the bulk of the in-division series: Phillies twice, Braves twice and Mets once. That’s 17 games against the dregs of the division, to which they once belonged. So it’s not altogether promising. But as a wise man named Lloyd Christmas once said …

11. Boston Red Sox, 76-58
Opponents’ winning %: .495
Home games: 16 of 28
Off-days: Sept. 7, 11, 21
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 10 of 28
Key series: vs. Astros, Sept. 28-Oct. 1
Overview: In the 21 games between the Yankees series going on this weekend and the Astros series to end the season that may well determine home field in the AL, the Red Sox play a big ol’ pile of meh: 21 games against teams playing a combined .470 ball. Six of those games are against the Blue Jays, who they’ve already beaten 10 of 13 times. This may not be the Red Sox’s league to lose, but it certainly is their division, and minus a shocking collapse, Boston will win its second straight AL East title.

12. Texas Rangers, 66-67
Opponents’ winning %: .494
Home games: 17 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 7, 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 12 of 29
Key series: vs. Yankees, Sept. 8-10
Overview: The biggest problem with the Rangers’ schedule is the easy part – seven games against Oakland – comes in the final 10 days. By that point, the Rangers may already be DOA. They’re four games back of the Twins for the second wild card, 16 of their next 19 are against teams within a game of .500, and the Astros, fighting to hold on to home-field advantage, will visit to kick off the season’s last week. Oh, and by the way, Adrian Beltre’s hamstring may sideline him for a fair while. In all, not promising.

13. Milwaukee Brewers, 70-64
Opponents’ winning %: .502
Home games: 13 of 28
Off-days: Sept. 7, 14, 25
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 13 of 28
Key series: vs. Cubs, Sept. 21-24
Overview: After taking on the Nationals this weekend, the Brewers head to the road for 12 of their following 15 games. That the Brewers remain within striking distance not just of the Cubs but the Rockies for the second wild card is one of the season’s great stories, and with baseball’s winningest pitcher, Zach Davies – seriously – and Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson, this is a team with a young core that’s only going to get better going forward.

Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout (center) celebrates his home run with Albert Pujols (left). (AP)

14. Los Angeles Angels, 69-65
Opponents’ winning %: .505
Home games: 12 of 28
Off-days: Sept. 7, 11, 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 9 of 28
Key series: vs. Astros, Sept. 12-14
Overview: Few teams face a tougher stretch than the Angels from Sept. 12-24: host Houston, Texas and Cleveland for three games apiece, then head to Houston for three more. As it stands, the Angels are about to start a three-city trip that will take them from Anaheim to Texas to Oakland to Seattle and back to Anaheim in a matter of 10 days. Getting Justin Upton from Detroit was a nice deadline coup. In the end, the Angels’ schedule may be their greatest impediment.

15. Kansas City Royals, 65-67
Opponents’ winning %: .487
Home games: 13 of 30
Off-day: Sept. 18
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 15 of 30
Key series: at Indians, Sept. 14-17
Overview: One off-day in September. Repeat: One off-day. Ugly as that is, the Royals are home for just 13 of those games. And on top of that, they’ve got the worst road trip of any contender – KC to Cleveland to Toronto to Chicago to New York to KC – thanks to a makeup game at Yankee Stadium. Even though the Royals get two series against the woebegone White Sox and another against the Tigers, riding the last hurrah of their championship core to a playoff spot would be their most remarkable accomplishment yet.

16. Baltimore Orioles, 68-66
Opponents’ winning %: .513
Home games: 13 of 28
Off-days: Sept. 7, 25, 28
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 13 of 28
Key series: at Indians, Sept. 8-10
Overview: The only breaks the Orioles get in September are their off-days. The worst team they play is the Blue Jays, and while the Orioles are 9-4 against Toronto this year, those series are surrounded by ones against the Yankees, Indians, Yankees and Red Sox. If Baltimore can survive past that, it deserves the Rays-at Pirates-at Rays ending it gets. But the prospects of the Orioles surviving aren’t great with a gauntlet like this ahead.

17. Seattle Mariners, 66-68
Opponents’ winning %: .518
Home games: 15 of 28
Off-days: Sept. 7, 18, 28
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 15 of 28
Key series: vs. Angels, Sept. 8-10
Overview: So, the Mariners start at home with nine straight games, which is great, except for the fact that Seattle is barely a .500 team at home. After that, it’s a long flight to Texas to face the Rangers and Astros, and then the M’s are back for a home swing that includes three games against Cleveland, and, well, by that point if the injury-ravaged Mariners are in it, frankly, they deserve the damn playoff spot for surviving with all the instinct of a chipmunk climbing out of a bucket of water.

18. Colorado Rockies, 72-61
Opponents’ winning %: .529
Home games: 15 of 29
Off-days: Sept. 18, 28
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 14 of 29
Key series: at Diamondbacks, Sept. 11-14
Overview: Nearly half their games are against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. During one particularly delightful stretch, they play four games in L.A., four in Phoenix, go back to Denver for three, hit San Francisco for two and finish in San Diego with four. That’s 14 of 17 games away from the delightful environs of Coors Field, where the Rockies are 12 games over .500, compared to the road, where they’re one under. Their wild-card spot has been slipping from their grip for weeks. Colorado’s schedule, with the highest opponent winning percentage of any contender, might be its greatest challenge yet.

19. Tampa Bay Rays, 67-68
Opponents’ winning %: .519
Home games: 14 of 27
Off-days: Sept. 7, 14, 18, 25
Games vs. teams .500 or better: 24 of 27
Key series: vs. Twins, Sept. 4-6
Overview: This weekend, the Rays play the White Sox. Then it’s 24 consecutive games to end the season against teams currently over .500. Seventeen of those are against current playoff teams. Already the Rays have played themselves into a pickle. The schedule only compounds it. Tampa Bay does have four off-days, which will be nice for rest, but that also means fewer games to make up a deficit that could get out of hand quickly if the Rays don’t keep up early in the month.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports: