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Strength of schedules: Tampa Bay and Cleveland

Why today's game should be at Tropicana Field

The Rays play another do or die game on the road
The Rays play another do or die game on the road
Tom Pennington

The Rays find themselves in another win or go home situation on the road, this time in Cleveland. Cleveland finished the regular season with ten consecutive wins, giving them the top Wild Card spot and home field advantage for the play in game. A one game "series" is frightening because essentially anything can happen; the "better" team does not have a significantly better chance of winning than the "inferior" team. But how do you know which team is the better team?

The Rays finished one game behind the Indians (through 162 games) in the AL Wild Card standings. But are wins the best way to judge a team's quality? Not always, especially when records are close. The Indians also finished the season with a better run differential than the Rays. Run differential is an excellent way to judge a team's talent level but in this case it is also misleading. Strength of schedule must play a part in deciding which team is superior.

Cleveland absolutely feasted on inferior competition this season, going 56-18 against teams that finished under .500 this season. The Rays finished 44-22 against sub .500 teams this season. Not only did Cleveland win a higher percentage of games played against weak teams, they played 8 more game against these weaker teams. Cleveland went 36-52 against teams over .500 while the Rays went 48-49. The discrepancy in games played against sub .500 teams arises due to differences between the AL East and Central divisions and Cleveland's excellent record against the AL West.

Cleveland went 44-32 against teams in their division this season but only managed a 4-15 record against the Detroit Tigers. Similarly to the Indians, the Rays went 43-33 within the AL East. The key difference in the teams' records comes against the AL West, against whom the Indians went 25-8 and the Rays went 18-16.

AL East AL Central AL West
Tampa Bay Rays 43-33 19-14 18-16
Cleveland Indians 12-21 44-32 25-8

Red Sox Rays Yankees Orioles Blue Jays
Cleveland Indians 1-6 2-4 1-6 4-3 4-2

Astros Twins White Sox Angels
Cleveland Indians 6-1 13-6 17-2 4-2

Unbalanced schedules make it next to impossible to compare two teams from different divisions. It's safe to say that today's Wild Card game would be played at The Trop if the Rays had played the schedule that the Indians did. That being said, Cleveland beat the teams they should have and earned the right to host the Wild Card game. May the "better" team win today.