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A few weeks back, I took a look at how the varying interleague schedules teams
would be playing might impact the divisional races
. With interleague play
mercifully behind us for another year, how did things shake out?

AL East

Much was made of the Red Sox’s playing the Pirates and Brewers while the
Yankees were tussling with the Reds and Cubs. Sure enough, the Red Sox picked
up two games in those contests (4-2 vs. 2-4), adding fuel to the argument that
the schedule is unfair. The Yankees went 11-1 in the rest of interleague,
however, sweeping all six of their games with the Mets, while the Red Sox were
going just 2-3 against the Marlins and Phillies (with a rainout to be made up
on September 1). The Blue Jays had the toughest interleague slate of the three and
performed the worst, going 9-9.

AL Central

Despite a wide range of opponents’ performance (Twins: .390 through June 2,
Royals: .513, White Sox: .482), the three AL Central contenders posted nearly
identical interleague records, all losing eight games. The Royals avoided a
10-8 mark only by having one game with the Diamondbacks rained out, so it’s
fair to say that interleague play wasn’t a big factor in the divisional race.

It will be interesting to see how the D’backs and Royals make up that game.
The two share just one off day the rest of the season, September 4, but with
both teams in the midst of road trips that day, it seems highly unlikely that
they would be forced back to Kansas City to play one game. That leaves the day
after the season ends, September 29, as the likely day for any makeup, and
puts a premium on both teams getting all their games in for the rest of the
year, lest more than one game have to be made up. I predict that, with this in
mind, one of the two teams will end up sitting out a three-hour rain delay at some point.

MLB has been lucky so far in that they haven’t had the bloated playoff format
complicated by makeup games and one-game playoffs piling up after the end of
the season. One of these years, their luck is going to run out.

AL West

The A’s had a significantly tougher schedule than the Mariners did (.588 vs.
466), but covered it just one length behind the M’s (9-9 vs. 10-8), thanks in
no small part to Rondell White‘s Amazing Bat O’ Grand Slams.
The Angels gained a little ground on both teams with an 11-7 run against
essentially an average schedule.

NL East

The Braves were delivered a tasty interleague slate, with 60% of their games
against some of the worst teams the AL had to offer: the Rangers, Orioles and
Devil Rays. They pounded it to the tune of 10-5, making up ground on both the
Expos (9-9) and the Phillies (8-6), who each had games against the Angels and
a good AL East team (the Blue Jays and Red Sox, respectively).

NL Central

No NL Central team had a big advantage in interleague play, and any edge the
Cubs might have had (a .468 opponents’ mark, third-worst of the four
contenders) was in part washed out by losing Sammy Sosa for five of their 18
contests (2-3; 7-6 rest of games). It will be fun if four teams that have been
separated by four or fewer games most of the season have their fate determined
by how well they played the Yankees (Reds and Cubs, 2-1; Astros, 1-2;
Cardinals, 0-3).

NL West

As expected, everyone made up ground on the Giants, who deserve credit for
going 10-8 against one of the tougher interleague cards. The Rockies and
Diamondbacks, however, were the big winners this year, going 9-6 against a
.415 schedule and 10-4 against a .476 one, respectively, and turning the NL
West into a four-team race. The Diamondbacks doing a tour of the game’s worst
division while they were fighting a terrible injury bug is just the kind of
lucky break that makes you wonder if Bob Brenly really is baseball’s Forrest
Gump.

I haven’t known exactly where to wedge this in, but I wanted to at least
mention it at some point. For all the talk about competitive balance in
baseball–talk that has largely died down since Bud Selig stopped beating the
drums on the Issue That Never Existed–18 of the game’s 30 teams are above
.500. Of the ones that aren’t, three (the White Sox, Marlins and Reds) are
within 5 1/2 games of a playoff spot. That leaves just nine teams who should
nominally have no “hope and faith” halfway through the season, and
that list includes teams with new (or newish) ballparks in Baltimore,
Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.

The lesson is that baseball has the best competitive balance in real sports,
and that balance exists without a series of rules that drag successful teams
back to the pack in a short period of time. Winning seasons, playoff
appearances and championships shouldn’t be distributed like trophies at a
youth soccer tournament, where everyone who shows up eventually gets their
moment in the sun. Success should be meaningful, and in baseball, it is.

This year’s standings have absolutely nothing to do with the new Collective
Bargaining Agreement; the situation we see this year is more or less the same
one that you could have found in 2001 or 2002. Competitive balance in baseball
is good, has been good, and will continue to be good, and it’s a shame that the
powers that be can’t sell that the way they want to sell goofy All-Star
gimmicks.