June 3, 2003
Mixing and Matching
Interleague play kicks off tonight with 14 mixed matchups. This year, we again have a new set of games, with the AL West taking on the NL East, the AL East playing the NL Central, and the AL Central and NL West hooking up for 18 games.
Mostly, anyway. The odd sizes of the AL West and the NL Central complicate things, for one. Then there's MLB's desperate need to schedule the six or seven series for which the whole concept of interleague play exists, so the Yankees will again play the Mets home-and-home, the Cubs will play the White Sox and so on. Some teams will play as many as 18 interleague contests, while others will play just 12.
All of this schedule-rigging trades fairness for a few extra bucks. Of course, MLB already tossed fairness out the window with regard to the wild-card spot years ago, as interleague play and the unbalanced schedule mean that teams fighting for the league's fourth slot can play wildly differing slates. Most notably, the 2001 Cardinals edged the Giants for the NL's last playoff spot by two games, benefitting not only from a weaker division, but a much weaker set of interleague games.
Now, however, all the gerrymandering means that even divisional rivals can play disparate opponents, or even different numbers of interleague games. How much does that affect schedules? Below, I've calculated the impact of non-common interleague games for teams who sustain playoff hopes. The winning percentage of these teams, and the specific non-common opponents, are also listed.
AL East Opp. Pct. Non-Common Series Red Sox .472 Pirates, Brewers, Astros, Phillies, Marlins Yankees .496 Reds, Cubs, Astros, Mets (2) Blue Jays .525 Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Expos (2)The Red Sox catch two of the worst teams in baseball by playing just two of the four contenders in the AL Central. The Yankees miss both bottom-feeders and instead get the Reds and Cubs. In what is shaping up to be a heck of a race, that's significant. The Jays get the worst of it, mostly due to what is at least a reasonable natural rival designation, the Expos.
AL Central Opp. Pct. Non-Common Series Twins .390 Padres, Rockies, Brewers (2) Royals .513 Dodgers, Rockies, Cardinals (2) White Sox .482 Dodgers, Padres, Cubs (2)The Twins, already stretching their lead in the Central, could put the division away over the next month. They're the only AL Central contender to play the two low teams in the NL West, and they continue to benefit from the odd decision to make the Brewers their designated rival for interleague play. Pete Schoenke couldn't have drawn it up better for the Twins. That's a tough .482 for the White Sox, who will see a bevy of nasty right-handers during interleague play. I'd be shocked if Jerry Manuel made it to the All-Star break.
AL West Opp. Pct. Non-Common Series Mariners .466 Mets, Braves, Padres (2) A's .588 Braves, Marlins, Giants (2) Angels .504 Marlins, Mets, Dodgers (2)Here's another example of the designated rival rule creating a significant fairness issue. There's no real reason for the Mariners to play the Padres six times. The A's get a nice attendance boost when the Giants come to town, but is it worth the ground they could lose to the M's in the West?
NL East Opp. Pct. Non-Common Series Braves .448 Rangers, Orioles, Devil Rays Expos .516 Angels, Rangers, Blue Jays (2) Phillies .524 Angels, Red Sox, OriolesHere's where it starts to get fun, as the Expos play 18 interleague games, the other two teams 15. If the Braves control the East come the All-Star break, don't be surprised to see Bobby Cox french Bud Selig during the Home Run Derby.
NL Central Opp. Pct. Non-Common Series Cubs .468 Devil Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox (2) Astros .473 Orioles, Devil Rays, Red Sox, Rangers (2) Cardinals .507 Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, Royals (2) Reds .452 Blue Jays, Devil Rays, IndiansAll these teams play the Yankees, as part of Bud Selig's attempt to level the playing field. Next year, the Bombers will play 121 road games. As the records indicate, it's a fairly even field. The Cubs have to be happy about both missing the Red Sox and catching a White Sox team that they match up against very well. The Cardinals' figure above is inflated by the Royals' hot start. They'll be playing a shadow of that team.
The Reds really do play 12 interleague games.
NL West Opp. Pct. Non-Common Series Giants .543 Twins, White Sox, A's (2) Dodgers .466 White Sox, Indians, Angels (2) Rockies .415 Indians, Twins, Tigers Diamondbacks .476 White Sox, Indians, TwinsAll four teams play the Tigers, but the Rockies play them twice. (Yes, Denver baseball fans, that's double the Brandon Inge!) Just one of the two series is included in the above calculations. The Giants get the worst of it, with six games against the A's and three with the Twins while the Dodgers catch the Tribe and the Halos. The Rockies' schedule gives them a chance to make up ground.
Three more points about interleague play: