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
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
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
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, Orioles
Here’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
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, Indians
All 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, Twins
All 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
Three more points about interleague play:
- At some point, we’ll see graphics and info boxes and hear commentary about
how so-and-so is the all-time leader in something in interleague play. When
you come across this, I encourage you to think evil thoughts about the source
of the information. If there’s a more ridiculous subset of performance records
than interleague play–random opponents played in June and July–I’m as yet
unaware of it.
- I’ve made this point before, but I’ll do so in advance this year. Ignore
all of the happy talk from MLB about how many more people are going to
interleague games than have been attending regular-season ones. Interleague
games are played in June, when the weather is warm and school is out of
session. The schedule this year is skewed towards weekend games (four of the
six IL blocks are on weekends), which always have higher attendance. Even
accounting for that, most of the remaining boost to the average is for the
handful of high-profile series (Yankees/Mets, et al).
Interleague play doesn’t do nearly as much for ticket sales as MLB would have
you believe, and the way in which they whitewash this with press releases
about attendance gains shows them to either be deceitful or ignorant.
Besides, if interleague play is such a boon for attendance, why not move it to
weekdays in April? That’s when teams need the bump, when the kids are in
school and it’s 37 degrees and hailing in Detroit.
- I might be marginally more accepting of interleague play if it didn’t
force such dry days on the baseball calendar. Because you have to leave time
for rained-out interleague games to be replayed (lest a common day have to be
found on which teams in different leagues can travel for a makeup game), there
are some awfully baseball-free days: two scheduled games yesterday, just one
on June 9.
This is, however, an improvement over recent years, which had multiple
completely dark days scattered throughout interleague play.