Following their 10-6 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday (Sept. 6), the Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place in the AL East.
With three more games to be played against the Yanks this weekend, the O's could go into the final four weeks of the season as the division leaders. But an AL East title would hardly be assured as Baltimore still has a formidable schedule to play through September and into the first week of October.
The Tampa Bay Rays certainly can't be counted out of the AL East or wild-card races either. The Rays are only two games back in their division and 1.5 games away from a wild-card spot going into the weekend.
When a race is this close, any advantage—no matter how slight—could be the decisive advantage. So between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays, which team has the toughest schedule down the stretch and which club might get a bit of a break? Here is how each team's schedule breaks down for the rest of the season.
New York Yankees
Of the three AL East contenders, the Yankees appear to have the easiest road through September. They have three series against teams with winning records, including their set with the Orioles this weekend (Sept. 6-9) and a three-game tilt with the Rays next week (Sept. 14-16).
The only other winning team the Yankees face down the stretch is the Oakland Athletics from Sept. 21-23. Besides that, the Yanks have two series with both the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays and a three-game matchup with the Minnesota Twins.
The combined winning percentage of teams the Yankees play through the rest of the regular season is .497 (408-413).
New York ends the season with the Twins, Blue Jays and Red Sox for its final 10 games. That could make for a pretty soft landing to finish off September and give the Yankees an edge over their AL East competitors.
The O's will play teams with winning records in four series through the end of the season. Of course, they're playing the Yankees in their next three games to finish off a four-game set. But Baltimore also has to play the A's and has two series with the Rays, including a season-ending three-game series from Oct. 1-3.
Like the Yankees, Baltimore also has two series each with the Red Sox and Blue Jays. The O's have a three-game set with the Seattle Mariners that closes out a West Coast road trip from Sept. 17-19.
While the M's have a losing record, they've been one of the best teams in MLB during the second half of the season with a 31-20 record. Seattle is a tough matchup for any team it faces from here on out.
The remaining opponents on Baltimore's schedule through Oct. 3 have a combined record of 419-403, good for a .510 winning percentage.
Tampa Bay Rays
If the Rays make it to the postseason for the third consecutive year—whether by winning the AL East or one of the AL's two wild-card spots—Joe Maddon's club will definitely have earned it.
Tampa Bay has the toughest schedule to battle through during September with five series against winning teams. The Rays have two intra-divisional series versus the Orioles and a set with the Yankees. But the Rays also have to face the Texas Rangers—the team with the best record in the AL—and the Chicago White Sox, who currently lead the AL Central.
The Red Sox and Blue Jays are the only clubs with losing records remaining on the Rays' schedule. The combined record of the teams Tampa Bay still has to play is 434-387, which amounts to a .529 winning percentage.
A postseason bid could come down to the final series of the season between the Rays and Orioles, a three-game set at Tropicana Field.
Unless the Red Sox play spoiler in their season-ending series with the Yankees, Tampa Bay and Baltimore should give us some drama right up until the last day of the regular season—just as each team did last year when the Rays won the AL Wild Card, aided by the Orioles beating Boston in the regular season finale, leaving the Red Sox to ponder their epic collapse.
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