In a recent Insider post, Buster Olney looked at the early season schedules for American League teams. He presented two schools of thought – that you’d rather have an easy schedule early, in order to get a “head start” on other teams, or that you’d rather face more difficult teams early before they’re firing on all cylinders.
Of all of the AL teams, Olney ranked the Indians as having the easiest schedule through the middle of May. Could the Indians be in line for another hot start like last season, when they went 30-15 in April and May? What makes their schedule “easier” than other teams in the AL?
There were a few factors taken into account:
– Only 6 of their first 30 games are against teams that had records of .500 or better in 2011.
– 18 of their first 30 games are at home.
– The Indians won’t play a team that finished 2011 above .500 until the Angels come to town on April 27.
Early season performance often has a lot to do with the perception of a team. If a team gets off to a great start, fans are enthused and management isn’t already thinking of a mid-season fire sale. If a team gets off to a poor start, it isn’t necessarily “season over,” but enthusiasm is often depressed and heads can start to roll (as an example, Olney mentions the firing of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Josh Byrnes in Arizona when the team got off to a bad start in 2010).
The teams the Indians face prior to April 27 include: Blue Jays, White Sox, Royals, Mariners and Athletics. While they were all under .500 last year, there’s a chance that a couple of those could see some improvement this year. There’s a chance a couple could be significantly worse (I’m thinking Athletics and possibly the White Sox).
There are also people that have discussed the Indians’ early season schedule from an economic perspective. In this post from Joel Hammond in Crain’s Cleveland Business, he points out that the Indians prefer to have fewer home games in April and May. Not only is the weather usually colder/more miserable, but kids are still in school from Monday through Friday. The split in April and May for the Tribe this year is 27 home games, versus 20 away games. In June, it drops to just 9 home games, versus 17 road games.
The Indians don’t have much control over the schedule, unfortunately. As it was explained to me before, they put in “requests” to the Major League scheduler. For example, they may ask for fewer April and May home games. I know in the past (since they moved Spring Training to Goodyear) they’ve asked to open the season away, in an AL West city. They also ask for Boston and New York to come to town later in the season, when attendance is likely to be higher.
The weather has been so unpredictable this winter, it’s tough to determine what April and May will be like (not that it’s ever that easy). I remember sitting at Saturday games with temperatures in the 30s and bitter wind; I went to Opening Day a few years ago in a t-shirt. While I’m there regardless of the weather, a nasty day in April and May at least typically means that I have the stadium to myself!
If the Indians benefit from an easier schedule early in the season, and if Grady Sizemore is able to return (although that may be a big *if*), it could provide a boost to the team as the schedule gets more difficult.