Coming into Friday night's games, it appears that the Oakland A's may have come out of the starting gate with a small, although not decisive, lead in the division race.
That's in spite of the fact that the four teams of the American League West have very similar records. And the first month of the season is just closing.
There are two considerations that put Oakland a little ahead. One is how well they've done in the division itself. The other is how many tough games outside the division they've played.
Oakland is 6-4 against Western Division rivals, leading in the season series against both the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners. It stands to reason that both teams have (so far) losing records in the division.
The only division team the A's haven't played so far is the Texas Rangers, and they now trail Oakland by the most.
The division games are the most important for two reasons: 1) a team plays more of them than games against individual teams outside the division, and 2) a victory in such a game is automatically a loss (and vice-versa) for someone else in the division race.
The other reason is that the A's are still ahead after being set back in six games against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, Without the 1-5 record in those games, the A's record would be an impressive 11-6.
The Angels have done somewhat better, 3-3 against the Yankees, but they haven't played the arguably tougher Rays. The Angels are playing barely above .500 ball, with or without the Yankees. The Texas Rangers are 0-3 against the Yankees, meaning that they would have a winning record otherwise.
The Mariners' schedule has been the easiest, with eight games against the likes of the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago White Sox, although they are only 5-3 in those games. They haven't been tested against the tougher American League East teams.
Taking just the raw statistics, without allowing for strength of schedule, Oakland has above-average pitching, as usual, and for a change, average hitting. No one division rival dominates Oakland in both categories.
Seattle has comparable pitching but worse hitting. Los Angeles is the reverse; worse pitching, comparable hitting. Texas is slightly worse than Oakland in both categories.
We'll have a better idea of how things stand after Oakland plays the Texas Rangers next week. Those three games could confirm, or undermine, Oakland's lead. Until then, my money is on the A's.
Oakland's advantages so far are small, but very real, given its tougher schedule. The tiny gap between it and its opponents may widen when the latter have to face the tougher competition.