MLB Rankings: Which Playoff Contenders Have Toughest Schedules?

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2017

MLB Rankings: Which Playoff Contenders Have Toughest Schedules?

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    We've made it to that bittersweet juncture of the MLB playoff races where the remaining regular-season series' can be counted on one hand.

    Which contenders are scheduled to slip during the sprint to the finish? Continue reading, curious person.

    The following teams have something at stake, whether it be a postseason berth, division title, home-field advantage or some combination of the three.

    From innocuous to overwhelming, these rankings order baseball's elite by the difficulty of their impending matchups.

16. Atlanta Braves

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 vs. Miami Marlins, Sept. 28-30 vs. New York Mets, Oct. 1-3 at Pittsburgh Pirates.

    With the Washington Nationals out of reach atop the NL East, and other wild-card contenders a safe distance behind, the Atlanta Braves will coast toward October.

    Chipper Jones collecting his retirement present from Citizens Bank Park could be eventful. The Phils boast one of Major League Baseball's best winning percentages since late August.

    However, Atlanta's regular-season schedule concludes against three ice-cold clubs.

15. New York Yankees

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-26 at Minnesota Twins, Sept. 27-30 at Toronto Blue Jays, Oct. 1-3 vs. Boston Red Sox.

    The New York Yankees ought to be favored in practically every game. None of these foes are within a dozen games of .500!

    Minnesota's pitching staff doesn't miss bats (fewest strikeouts in MLB), Boston has only one series win in its last seven tries and Blue Jays rookies continue to disappoint in everyday roles.

    Left-hander Andy Pettitte will get a couple more unimposing tune-up starts to re-acclimate before the postseason.

14. Baltimore Orioles

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-26 vs. Toronto Blue Jays, Sept. 28-30 vs. Boston Red Sox, Oct. 1-3 at Tampa Bay Rays.

    An off day on Sept. 27 between home matchups serves as a great recovery opportunity for the Baltimore Orioles. It's possible, though, that they'll secure a wild-card spot without it.

    The O's have annihilated AL East competition. Considering that, Baltimore should be comfortable with the schedule from here on out.

13. Detroit Tigers

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-27 vs. Kansas City Royals, Sept. 28-30 at Minnesota Twins, Oct. 1-3 at Kansas City Royals.

    It's mostly great news for the Detroit Tigers, who won't see another winning team this regular season.

    Unfortunately, revitalized Jeremy Guthrie has two chances to spoil their playoff push.

    The Tigers also finish the campaign with two straight road series'. And there's no way to sugarcoat it—they have been genuinely mediocre away from Comerica Park in 2012.

12. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-26 at Houston Astros, Sept. 28-30 vs. Washington Nationals, Oct. 1-3 vs. Cincinnati Reds.

    Three playoff hopefuls are hotly pursuing the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League's No. 2 wild-card spot, but St. Louis' final road trip should be a piece of cake. The reigning World Series champs boast a stellar 19-8 record against the Cubs since 2011.

    Both the Nats and Reds will have presumably clinched their divisions prior to visiting St. Louis, which means some key contributors will be resting.

    John Lannan is slated to start a game. His pitch-to-contact approach doesn't bode well, considering that the Cardinals lineup owns the NL's highest team batting average.

11. Chicago White Sox

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-26 vs. Cleveland Indians, Sept. 27-30 vs. Tampa Bay Rays, Oct. 1-3 at Cleveland Indians.

    Every opportunity to play the Tribe is a blessing with the way that ship has sunk (minus-155 run differential since All-Star break).

    Adam Dunn, A.J. Pierzynski and Co. will feast on Cleveland's righty-laden pitching staff.

10. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Schedule: Sept. 24 at Washington Nationals, Sept. 25-27 at Cincinnati Reds, Sept. 28-30 vs. Houston Astros, Oct. 1-3 vs. San Diego Padres.

    The Milwaukee Brewers will attempt to solve NL Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto on September 26.

    Of course, they won't have any trouble dominating the Astros, who own a putrid .192/.272/.277 triple-slash line against power pitchers in 2012, according to

    Naturally, manager Ron Roenicke has Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers lined up to subdue them.

9. San Francisco Giants

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, Sept. 28-30 at San Diego Padres, Oct. 1-3 at Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Without Carlos Quentin due to a gimpy knee, the Padres lack lineup depth. Pitching around Chase Headley will be a simple yet successful game plan.

    The San Francisco Giants ease into a six-game road trip following an 11-day homestand.

8. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 at San Diego Padres, Sept. 28-30 vs. Colorado Rockies, Oct. 1-3 vs. San Francisco Giants.

    Since the start of August, the Dodgers-Giants rivalry has been completely one-sided. Bucking that trend and sweeping the season-ending three-game set may be necessary for Los Angeles to secure a playoff berth.

    Victory won't come easy against the Reds, but that penultimate series versus the visiting Rockies should translate into three consecutive wins.

    L.A.'s last off day is wasted on a cross-country flight from Cincinnati to San Diego.

7. Los Angeles Angels

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 vs. Seattle Mariners, Sept. 28-30 at Texas Rangers, Oct. 1-3 at Seattle Mariners.

    The Los Angeles Angeles have two series' against the Seattle Mariners, but are at the Texas Rangers in their second-to-last series.

    L.A. speedsters Erick Aybar and Mike Trout should be stealing efficiently and frequently. Seattle's Jesus Montero and Texas' Mike Napoli have below-average caught-stealing percentages.

6. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-26 at Boston Red Sox, Sept. 27-30 at Chicago White Sox, Oct. 1-3 vs. Baltimore Orioles.

    The Tampa Bay Rays essentially need to run the table to bust up the American League playoff picture.

    I just don't see it happening.

    In Chicago, they'll dodge Jake Peavy, but not Francisco Liriano or Chris Sale. Southpaws like them are especially effective against the strikeout-prone Rays.

    Sale had a field day against their lineup on May 28 and tallied 15 strikeouts.

5. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 vs. Washington Nationals, Sept. 28-30 at Miami Marlins, Oct. 1-3 at Washington Nationals.

    The Philadelphia Phillies have a losing record versus their upcoming opponents. That's a demoralizing fact for a team with hardly any margin for error.

    Venturing to Marlins Park cannot be taken lightly. Phils outfielders struggle defensively, and the pitcher-friendly dimensions will put arm strength to the test and make you pay dearly for choosing poor routes.

4. Cincinnati Reds

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 vs. Milwaukee Brewers, Sept. 28-30 at Pittsburgh Pirates, Oct. 1-3 at St. Louis Cardinals.

    The Cincinnati Reds have officially clinched a postseason berth, but they will be met with plenty of resistance in their pursuit of the National League's top record.

    The Brew Crew are winning at an 80 percent clip over the past five weeks. Meanwhile, the Bucs and Cards both thrive at their home venues.

    Cincy's lineup is primarily right-handed, so the team will constantly be at a platoon disadvantage as it encounters numerous hurlers who throw from the same side.

3. Texas Rangers

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-27 vs. Oakland Athletics, Sept. 28-30 vs. Los Angeles Angels, Oct. 1-3 at Oakland Athletics.

    There will be no opportunities to unwind for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, as they conclude season series' with AL West foes.

    Dan Haren and other strike-throwers have been assigned to spoil the first-place fun. 

    Free-swingers Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton are susceptible to late-season slumps against such hurlers who get ahead in the count and masterfully tempt you to chase pitches out of the zone.

2. Oakland Athletics

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    Schedule: Sept. 24-27 at Texas Rangers, Sept. 28-30 vs. Seattle Mariners, Oct. 1-3 vs. Texas Rangers.

    Outplaying the Rangers remains a difficult proposition. Their impressive roster depth compensates for any apathy they may exhibit as the American League front-runner.

    The A's would be fortunate to take three of seven.

1. Washington Nationals

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    Schedule: Sept. 25-27 at Philadelphia Phillies, Sept. 28-30 at St. Louis Cardinals, Oct. 1-3 vs. Philadelphia Phillies.

    In every game that the Washington Nationals play during the rest of this calendar year (regular season or postseason), they will be paired with an MLB team that sorely needs to win.

    They won't avoid reputable starting pitchers like Roy Halladay, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright.

    After leaving the ballpark on Oct. 3, the Nationals will have endured 16 contests in 15 days.