Geography has never held more significance in a Major League Baseball season than this year.
Teams will only play clubs in their division—which are already structured based on geographical region—and those in the corresponding division of the other league. That alone gives certain teams an edge over others.
Then, there’s the travel required. The Central Division in both leagues is the least geographically spread out. Meanwhile, some teams in the West will have to play games in three different time zones. The less jet lag the better in a 60-game sprint.
We’ve already looked at the winners, losers and highlights of the 2020 schedule, which was released Monday night. But which teams have the easiest and hardest schedules? Let’s take a look.
New York Yankees
The Yankees won’t have to play the Astros, A’s and Twins, and they won’t have to leave their time zone. Of their division foes, only the Rays appear to be playoff bound. The Blue Jays could play spoilers, but the Orioles are awful. This is also the worst Red Sox team since they finished last in both 2014 and 2015.
As SI’s Tom Verducci pointed out Monday, the Yankees will play either the Blue Jays, Orioles or Marlins in 20 of their final 23 games. All three of those teams lost at least 95 games last year, with both Baltimore and Miami losing at least 105.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Regardless of their opponents, the Dodgers are the best team in the NL West and the favorite to win the pennant. They won’t have to play any teams in the NL East and Central, each with four viable postseason contenders. David Price opting out hampers L.A.'s rotation a little, but it has enough depth to account for his absence.
The Dodgers will log 10,291 miles over the 66-day season, second most among NL West teams, according to Daren Willman, MLB’s director of research and development. No matter, of the four teams the Dodgers have to travel the furthest to play—the Rockies, Mariners, Rangers and Astros—only Houston finished above .500 last season. Whatever disadvantages the Dodgers have with their travel, they more than make up for with their talent and their opponents.
Moreover, the Dodgers have 43 games against teams that finished with losing records in 2019. If starting strong is turns out to be imperative as we expect it to be, the Dodgers will be coasting to the NL West crown come September: 30 of their first 36 games come against teams with losing records last season.
The Twins play 20 games against the Royals and Tigers, two teams that combined to win only 32.8% of their games in 2019. No other division features two teams that were that bad last year, and neither team is expected to be any better this season. Minnesota also has the easiest strength of schedule—their opponents had a combined .449 winning percentage last season.
Toronto Blue Jays
As I wrote last week, to make the postseason in 2020, the Blue Jays would have needed a 16-team format. Their schedule was one of the main reasons why their playoff dreams depended on three additional playoff teams per league.
Toronto plays 46 of its 60 games against teams that finished .500 or better last year, with 20 of those coming against the Yankees and Rays. That desired hot start is not looking too promising either. Based on the 2019 winning percentages of their opponents, the Blue Jays have the third hardest strength of schedule through Aug. 6—the first two weeks of the season.
New York Mets
Much like the Blue Jays, the Mets would have a much better postseason shot if they were in another division. Nearly half of their games (29) come against teams that made the playoffs in 2019.
The teams New York will play over the first two weeks combined for a .571 winning percentage last season, giving the Mets the most difficult strength of schedule in baseball through Aug. 6. Things won’t get much better for them down the stretch. Their final 10 games come against the Braves (3), Rays (3) and Nationals (4)—three playoff contenders with among the best pitching staffs in baseball.
The Rangers will travel more miles (14,706) than any other team this season, playing in three different time zones. The last two weeks of the season especially will be brutal for Texas. On Sept. 15, the Rangers will play a three-game series against the Astros in Houston, which is in the Central Time Zone. From there, they’ll log more than 1,500 miles from Houston to Anaheim to play four games against the Angels, in the Pacific Time Zone, before a quick two-game set in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks. Because Arizona does not observe daylight saving time, these games will be played under Mountain Standard Time. Lastly, they’ll fly back to Arlington, Texas, in the Central Time Zone, for a final four games against the Astros.