Dissecting the schedule and respecting Milwaukee

It seems like I regularly hear folks talking up the Cardinal's shot to overtake the Brewers, in part, because of the weak teams Milwaukee has played so far this season. Heck, this is almost a weekly reference in the Seeing Red podcast at this point.

In a general sense, I guess that is right. So far this season, the Cards have played against teams with an average win percentage of .508 vs. .479 for Milwaukee. I calculated that simply averaging the projected end of season win percentage for each team-game through June 1. Fangraphs more involved calculations for strength of schedule expects the Cards and Brewers to play about equally hard schedules the rest of the way, though of course that measure isn't great for this type of relative schedule strength comparison.

These averages cover up so much. Instead, let's look at the schedule on a rolling basis. The chart below shows a rolling 10 game average of the projected end of season win percentages as of June 1 for the Cardinals opponents throughout the season. This is a backward measure, looking at the toughness of the opponents the team played over the previous 10 games, not over the upcoming 10 games. **note: this is a good question. how do you conceptualize whether the Cards are playing a hard schedule? By looking backward? By looking forward? By looking backward and forward? Do you think in 10 game increments?**

Cardinal average projected opponent win% as of June 1  (10-game moving average)

Cardinal average projected opponent win% as of June 1 (10-game moving average)

The Cards have played 50 games through June 1. Their opponents were pretty weak through much of April, but got a lot harder in May, the hardest sustained stretch all season. The Cards have a pretty easy stretch starting in mid-August and running through mid-September. Now let's add in the Brewers.

Average projected opponent win% as of June 1  (10-game moving average)

Average projected opponent win% as of June 1 (10-game moving average)

Sure, the Brewers have had an easier start to the season, but not that much. The gap in May stands out, but even with that, their opponent win percentage steadily climbed throughout the month. No, what really stands out to me are the three areas circled above.

  • Appx. games 80-90: While the Cards are playing the Phillies, Atlanta, and the Dodgers prior to the All Star Break, the Brewers will be fattening up on the Pirates and Cubs. The Brewers have a nice chance to fatten up their division lead.
  • Appx. games 110-120: Here the Cards can make up some ground as the Brewers play the Dodgers and Tampa, as well as one head-to-head series in St. Louis. To be honest, most of August is easy for both clubs and a good time to bolster their records for potential wild card births.
  • The final few weeks of the season set up to be crazy if the division race remains close. First, the two teams play each other four times, two in St. Louis and then two in Milwaukee. But around that, the schedule is bonkers. First the Brewers will play a tough slate (mostly Yankees and Mets) while Card have been getting an easy schedule, and then that scenario flips in mid-September, as the Cards play the Dodgers and Padres. Both teams close out with games against some bad teams. The Cards end the season with six straight games against the Pirates.

What does all this mean? Who knows. The Cards have plenty of opportunities left to catch the Brewers. And the schedule leaves the Cards with another great chance to go on a strong second half run as the club has done in 2019 and 2021. But it is also a slight to the Brewers to look at what they have accomplished so far and chalk it up to the schedule. Let's hope that Mo feels this club has performed well enough through mid-July that it is worth investing more resources at the trade deadline. That has not been the case for several years.