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Early-season AL strength-of-schedule ranks: Mariners have it tough

If you play the Cleveland Indians very early this season, you might be lucky enough to miss outfielder Michael Brantley as he works his way back from shoulder surgery, and if you play the Texas Rangers in April or early May, that might be better than seeing them in June, when Yu Darvish is expected to be back in their rotation.

X factors like these are why assessing strength of schedule can be fuzzy. There are a whole lot of variables at play, from the timing of injuries to the turn of an opponent's rotation to being unlucky enough to face a team when they're red-hot.

But a lot of club executives examine schedule strength -- certainly more than players or managers do -- because they want to have context for what they see. If the Twins take advantage of what appears to be a relatively soft schedule early in the season, that'll set them up well for the second half, when they have a staggering percentage of games against rivals. On the other hand, if they start slowly, red flags could be raised.

With that in mind, here's our annual ranking of the strength of schedule for the early part of the season, as we look for reasons why some teams might start quickly -- or slowly.

The American League teams are ranked today, from toughest schedule to easiest schedule. The NL rankings will be posted Sunday.

1. Seattle Mariners

Home cookin': 18 of their first 43 games are at home.

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2015: 31 of their first 43 games.

Notable: The Mariners have one of the most challenging travel schedules annually because of how many miles they must fly. But think about this: Seattle will be tested by an inordinate number of games against the Rangers early in the season; six of their first nine games are against Texas, and the two teams will face each other 12 times by June 12.