Do the Nationals have the easiest schedule in baseball?

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Quantifying strength of schedule, especially two and a half weeks before the season even starts, is no easy task. But statistical Web site Fangraphs.com took a recent stab at it. It’s an understandably flawed exercise, but it highlighted once again something that is already apparent: the National League East is one of the weakness divisions in baseball.

Last week, Fangraphs.com published a brief study of opponents’ project WAR (wins above replacement). They took their projected WAR for each team and calculated the average WAR for each team’s opponents. Based on the projected 2014 divisional WAR, the divisions with the highest projected WAR were, in this descending order: AL East, NL West, AL West, AL Central, NL Central and, in last place, the NL East.

Broken down even further, the Orioles have the toughest schedule in baseball next season, based on an average projected opponent WAR of 35.6 The lowest in baseball is the Nationals, who have an average projected opponent WAR of 30.4 (The Detroit Tigers have the easiest schedule in the AL, an average projected opponent WAR of 32.9, and the San Diego Padres have the hardest schedule in the NL, an average projected opponent WAR of 33.6.)

The FanGraphs.com study is flawed for several reasons. It was done before Ervin Santana signed with the Atlanta Braves, and free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales have yet to signed. Also, the entire analysis is based on projections, which can obviously turn out to be wrong and sometimes tend to be conservative.

But the conclusion about the NL East is still perhaps valid. The Braves had setbacks with two starters this week: Kris Medlen is headed towards a second Tommy John surgery while Brandon Beachy hit only 89 mph while returning from his own elbow surgery. They signed Santana, but how much can their dominant bullpen cover for a depleted rotation and a strikeout-happy lineup that lost Brian McCann? The Philadelphia Phillies are an aging bunch with pitching woes and could lose a lot of games. The Miami Marlins could likely be improved from last season, but the offense still remains a question mark. The New York Mets should be better, too, but how much can they be without Matt Harvey and an offense that looks uneven?

The NL East has weaknesses, as do the Nationals, but do they have the easiest schedule in baseball? Perhaps, but it’s clear they have a decent shot at the playoffs with the division landscape like it is.

FROM THE POST

As Kris Medlen’s injury shows, this time of year is a dangerous time for pitchers, writes Thomas Boswell.

The Nationals make their first foray into the new instant replay system, writes Adam Kilgore.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Tanner Roark takes his turn, Craig Stammen goes long, Jamey Carroll states his case

Back from injury, Chris Young hopes to be part of the Nationals

Ian Desmond scratched in Kissimmee

Ryan Zimmerman rests, readying for first base

A.J. Cole and Felipe Rivero reassigned to minor league camp

Doug Fister throws, says he’ll be ready to start the season

Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann: Who should start Nationals opening day?

MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”

DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY

18

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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