Examining strength of schedule: Why winning in April is very achievable, and why a losing record might bury the team

Winning against these guys could go a long way in making 2013 a successful rebound year for the Colorado Rockies. - Ezra Shaw

With an April schedule against strong division rivals and with few off days built in, the Rockies face a challenge if they want to end the month as strongly as they have begun so far. Is winning April possible, and why is this so important to the rest of the Rockies' season?

One platitude that gets thrown around a lot in baseball is that a win is a win- and that a win is just as important in April as it is during a tight playoff race in late September. Looking at the schedule for the month, this does not exactly hold true for the Rockies: coming out of April with a winning record - or even close to .500 - bodes extremely well for the team, while a losing record could bury the team, with few opportunities later on to dig themselves out.

Strength of schedule-unlike player injuries or unexpected under-performances-can be anticipated and does impact the managerial tasks of lineup building, pitching staff management, and the use of the bullpen. Whether the Rockies are able to maintain their winning ways-or even achieve mediocrity-will depend on their ability to find ways to win against stronger teams and division rivals in the coming month.

The strong showing in the first two series has been a source of optimism for Rockies fans. Even taking into account yesterday's loss against the Giants at AT&T Park, the starting rotation has been-surprisingly-really, really good. Fantastic starts by players such as Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer have been especially essential in fueling the team's offense. However, the team has also benefited from playing against a mediocre team in Milwaukee and a weak Padres team at Coors Field.

The first real challenge for the team comes this week, playing against two division rivals at their own pitcher friendly ballparks. The Rockies won a total of four games last year against their current opponents. It also feels like they've won about that many games ever at AT&T. The offense had a strong start, but this series may prove to be a momentum killer. While a series victory is overly optimistic, I think the team has the ability to take one away from the Giants.

From there, the Rockies move to another pitcher-friendly park to face the Padres at PETCO. The Rockies have already proven stronger all-around, demonstrating stronger pitching, offense, and defense. I would be happy with a series victory here.

Starting next week, the team moves back to Coors for 10 games against the Mets, Diamondbacks, and Braves. If the Rockies offense loses their stride on the west coast, the first series against New York would be the time to gain that back. With the news that Johan Santana is out for the season the Rockies will be facing a members of a starting pitching staff with fewer than 10 years of mlb service time combined.

A winning record in April is important for several reasons. First, 18 of the games are against division rivals. Winning early and often will make sure that the team is not burying itself in the division.

Second, the Rockies are facing their longest playing stretch of the entire year. Starting with Friday's game in San Diego, the team plays 20 consecutive days until their next off day in May. The team has proven itself effective and talented when healthy this year. Managing the team's health during this stretch is important now- especially for a team that was broken and injury prone just a few months ago.

Third, if the Rockies do bury themselves by losing to division rivals in April, there is only a small window of recovery in May. With more off days built in, 16 home games versus 11 away games, and 7 games against the Astros and the Cubs, May actually presents a weaker schedule, but it is an uphill battle until the All-Star break. From mid-June through mid-July, the Rockies face a drought of home games- facing only the Giants and Dodgers at home. (Hat tip to one of our members for pointing this out!)

The Takeaway: While a losing record doesn't necessarily spell doom for the Rockies, a winning record will be a great catalyst, given the strength of schedule, the amount of games against division rivals, and the stretch of consecutive games, for which team and player's health must be accounted for.

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