The schedule is on the A’s side.
Perhaps as a fan you take comfort in that. Perhaps you see it as a jinx.
Or maybe you conclude that “strength of schedule” only means so much, and that the stretch drive ultimately comes down to which teams take care of business on the field (you’d be right).
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But in trying to predict how these final 4 ½ weeks might unfold for the A’s, take note that Oakland has the easiest path, from a strength-of-schedule standpoint, of any of their closest competitors in the American League postseason picture.
The A’s have 29 games left in the regular season. Just nine of those come against teams that currently have winning records. They get 17 of their final 29 games at the Coliseum – where they are 39-25 -- and hit the road for just 12.
By comparison, A.L. West-leading Texas plays 16 of its final 29 against teams above .500 as it tries to maintain a three-game margin over the A’s.
Tampa Bay, leading Oakland by a half-game for the top wild card spot, faces teams with winning records in 17 of its final 30 games, and the Rays are on the road for 19 of those 30.
Cleveland, chasing the A’s for the second wild card spot, plays just 12 of its last 29 against winning clubs, so its schedule isn’t much tougher than Oakland’s. But Baltimore, the team behind Cleveland, is faced with 20 of 30 games against above-.500 teams and has more road games left than home games.
Not that a team’s fortunes are predetermined by its schedule. We need only look back at the 2012 A’s for proof of that.
An SI.com story published on Sept. 7 of last season rated Oakland as having the toughest closing schedule of all playoff contenders over the final four weeks. The A’s were five games out of first place on that date, right in the thick of the wild card race, and played 17 of their final 26 on the road.
They wound up going 18-8 over that span and swept a six-game homestand to win the A.L. West on the final day of the regular season.
Lots of variables come into play that a glance at the schedule doesn’t account for. An upcoming four-game home series with the Astros – a major league-worst 44-88 – should make the A’s lick their chops. Just remember that Houston took two of three from Oakland at the Coliseum two weeks ago.
The Sept. 1 roster expansion also changes things, as new (and usually unknown) players are added to rosters and find their way into games. Advance scouting reports become less effective and a team with a gruesome win-loss record can suddenly become tougher.
“I don't like September call-ups," A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters Thursday. “You don't know the players and you don't know how (opponents) are going to use them.”
The A’s begin a 10-game homestand Friday, and they face the Rays and Rangers in the first six of those, so they can’t afford to sulk over Thursday’s heartbreaking 7-6 walk-off loss at Detroit.
Oakland wraps up its final series against first-place Texas on Sept. 15. That means that if they’re still chasing the Rangers in the division standings over the final two weeks, they’ll need help from other teams.
But the A’s final four series come against the Angels (twice), the Twins and the Mariners. Granted, Oakland has gone just 6-10 against Seattle this season. But those teams entered Thursday night a combined 44 games under .500.
That’s a pretty cushy finish. And whether you view such a schedule as a blessing or a curse, the A’s find themselves in an enviable position.