The St. Louis Cardinals have played 120 games this season. With about 74% of the 2015 season complete, the Redbirds have notched 77 wins to 43 losses, giving them baseball's highest winning percentage at .642. But the Pittsburgh Pirates and to a lesser extent, the Chicago Cubs have refused to fade quietly from the Cardinals' rear-view mirror and into the distant horizon. So I thought we'd try to give ourselves some context regarding the National League Central race. How are the clubs positioned at present and what do their schedules look like moving forward?
We'll start with a snapshot of the Central race this morning of August 21, 2015, using the Fangraphs playoff odds, which are generated by running 10,000 simulations of the rest of the MLB season.
The Cardinals' odds of winning the division have actually dropped by about 2% since they defeated the Pirates in the clubs' three-game series a week ago. St. Louis has also seen its playoff odds go up, from 99.8% on August 14 to 99.9% today. Pittsburgh's Central-winning odds have gone up about 5% since last week and their overall postseason chances are up to 99.3%, another improvement. The Cubs are very likely to qualify for the October tournament, but as a wild card.
Strength of Schedule
Evaluating the clubs' remaining schedules requires us to be forward looking, in my opinion. Rather than look backward and use opponent winning percentage to date, I'm going to use the Fangraphs projected winning percentage for the remainder of the season. This is because teams may have banked wins with more talented players logging time who will not be in the lineup down the stretch due to trade or injury. Using the Fangraphs projected winning percentage also takes into consideration team that improved by trades or call-ups.
I took each of the Cardinals', Pirates', and Cubs' remaining schedule and broke it down by games against each team. In order to weight schedule strength, I then multiplied the Fangraphs projected rest-of-season winning percentage for each team by the number of games against said team. I then added those weighted scores together. I played around with weighting based on home and away but wound up opting not to factor it in because I could not figure out how best to do it. If you have any suggestions, by all means share them in the comments.
The Cardinals have a slightly less difficult schedule when weighting by Fangraphs' rest-of-season projected winning percentage. Of course, this doesn't take into account travel (though all three clubs have a west-coast road trip ahead of them yet this year). Nonetheless, Fangraphs projects the Pirates (.562 winning percentage) to have a better record over the remainder of 2015 than the Cardnals (.546) or Cubs (.553). Because the Cardinals have banked so many wins already, however, such a finish would allow them to win the division with 100 wins to the Pirates' 96 and the Cubs' 92.
SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive agreement regarding daily fantasy baseball. I like Andrew Cashner at Petco Park tonight against the Cardinals. You can play FanDuel here.