I’ve been diligently checking the papers and, for some time now, have not been able to find any major league ballgames scheduled. When one does a column with “Matchups” in the title, this can be problematic. So, in order to stay thematically relevant, I’ve hit the record books and come up with some of the more extreme matchup results of all time. These records involve extant teams only, and all references to them encompass their entire history, including the time they were in other cities. So, for example, a reference to the Braves includes their time in Boston and Milwaukee.
The most-common matchup: 2,315 games, Cubs versus Pirates
There are older rivalries in baseball, like the Braves and Cubs, whose antecedents began play in 1876, but this one has the advantage of both age and togetherness. The Pittsburgh-Chicago rivalry got started in 1887 when Pittsburgh came over to the National League from the American Association. Their main advantage over Braves-Cubs is that both were assigned to the Eastern Division when the leagues split in 1969, and then to the Central Division when things were realigned again in 1994. In contrast, Atlanta was sent to the West in 1969, and to the East in 1994. These separations are what keep the game’s oldest continuous intra-franchise rivalry from also being its most prolific. The Pirates lead the series, 1,189 to 1,116. (For our purposes today, we’re counting all games, including non-decisions of record from 1901 forward, but decisions only from 1876 to 1900. In no case with the records discussed does the discounting of non-decisions change the outcome.)
These are the top 10, through 2007:
2,315: Cubs vs. Pirates 2,307: Pirates vs. Cardinals 2,285: Cubs vs. Phillies 2,279: Dodgers vs. Giants 2,276: Braves vs. Giants 2,272: Reds vs. Dodgers 2,246: Braves vs. Phillies 2,226: Braves vs. Cubs 2,226: Cubs vs. Cardinals 2,217: Phillies vs. Pirates
Provided there is divisional continuity, the top two are not going to change places anytime soon. The Dodgers-Giants will pass the Cubs-Phillies this year for number three all-time, and the Braves-Phillies will climb to number four in 2010. The Cubs-Cardinals will eventually get to number five, probably in 2013, barring any changes in the balance of scheduling.
Least-common matchup: three games, tied 35 times
This number will be smaller before season’s end, as some of these 35 interleague “rivalries” are scheduled to be renewed this year. For instance, both the Red Sox and Yankees are visiting Houston, which will double their head-to-head meetings to six.
Most-common interleague matchup: 62 games, a tie between Angels vs. Dodgers and Giants vs. A’s
While familiarity might not breed contempt, it certainly breeds out novelty. These once-quaint pairings have become quite routine and, accordingly, their continued relevance becomes more and more of a question mark. It is these two series, as well as the two that are tied for third place on this list (Mets-Yankees and Cubs-White Sox, with 60 each), that were the cornerstone of the interleague argument. For everyone of these “natural rivalries,” we’ve got a dozen series where the teams haven’t broken double figures yet.
Best head-to-head record (no game minimum): 1.000, with 13 teams tied
Ten of these are matchups in which the teams have only met three times. The other three are 6-0 showings: the Reds over the Devil Rays, the Yankees over the Pirates, and the A’s over the Pirates. If we were including postseason, Pittsburgh’s record against the Yankees would improve to 4-13. We’re not, though.
Best head-to-head record (10-game minimum): .857, White Sox over the Reds (12-2)
The White Sox continue to enact revenge for the 1919 World Series, and are currently on a nine-game winning streak against the Reds. They are not scheduled to meet this year.
Best head-to-head record (100-game minimum): .669, Yankees over the Devil Rays (111-55)
Not that the renamed Rays wouldn’t have been subpar anywhere they landed, but being placed in a division with both the Red Sox and Yankees at the exact moment in history when both got especially rich and especially smart hasn’t done much for their historic record. Boston has also beaten them 111 times, but lost three extra meetings to make them a very close second in this category. Looking ahead with optimism, when the Devil-free Rays’ crop of super prospects meld with the very good young players already on their roster creating an über-team, they can start playing the Yanks and Sox to a standstill and drop these lopsided percentages incrementally. The next-highest winning percentage not involving the Rays belongs to the Braves-Rockies matchup, where Atlanta currently enjoys an 82-46 (.641) lead.
Best head-to-head record (500-game minimum): .608, Orioles over the Rangers (353-282)
The O’s were especially hard on the Senators/Rangers franchise during its first decade in Washington. The Senators only managed to take one season series (10-8 in 1965), and Baltimore rolled up a 135-61 record against them from 1961 to 1971. Since the move to Texas, the rivalry has been just about .500, although the Rangers 30-3 win last August 22 should probably count more in tipping the post-DC portion of the rivalry in Texas’ favor.
Best head-to-head record (1,500-game minimum): .593, Yankees over the A’s (1,100-755)
One could have easily guessed that, among the old school matchups, the best individual record was going to belong to the Yankees. It’s just a matter of guessing which of the other original AL franchises that went into extended states of decline it would be against. It turns out it’s the A’s, a franchise that has tanked on several different occasions in its history. Especially telling was the period the A’s resided in Kansas City. From 1955-67, the Yankees played .709 baseball against the A’s (183-75) and never lost a season series to the K.C. A’s. That’s better than they were against the A’s during the Mackmen’s lean years of 1934-46, when the Yankees played them at .696, but not as good as the first A’s quality hiatus (1915-24) when they beat them nearly three times in four (148-56, .725). The Yankees were also hard on the St. Louis Browns: their matchup with the Browns/Orioles is a close second to this one, standing at .592 all-time (1,198-826). Their head-to-head with the Senators/Twins isn’t too far off, either, currently standing at 1,088-760 (.589).
Most common American League matchup: 2,040, Orioles vs. Yankees
This rivalry encompasses four different city matchups: Baltimore vs. Milwaukee (1901), Baltimore vs. St. Louis (1902), New York vs. St. Louis (1903-1953), and New York vs. Baltimore (1955-present). Here’s a trivia question for you: has any other matchup involved more different city configurations than this? As far as total games go, the Indians–Tigers rivalry is a very close second, basically just a few rainouts away from the top. Baltimore-Boston and Boston-New York are close as well.
Most common matchup involving an expansion team: 784, Mets vs. Phillies
The gap between 56th and 57th place on the all-time games played is huge. It drops from 1,851 (Orioles-White Sox) to 784 (Mets-Phillies). It stands to reason that the first 56 slots would belong to the franchises that predate the expansion era. Each league had 28 possible matchups, and these were revisited a scheduled 22 times a year from 1901-61 in the National League and from 1904-60 in the American. (The AL played a shorter schedule from 1901 to 1903, and both leagues truncated their schedules in 1918 and 1919.) The Mets-Phillies have a 21-game lead on runner-up Reds-Astros, a gap that was only four games at the turn of the century. Playing in a six-team division, the Reds-Astros have played two to four fewer head-to-head games than the Mets-Phils have in their five-team division, since the schedule was weighted toward intradivision action in 2001; this gap will only continue to grow. American League teams are non-factors in this category because they played a balanced schedule for so long after their 1977 expansion, while the National League stayed imbalanced through the end of the two-division era.
Least-common intraleague matchup not involving Arizona, Milwaukee, or Tampa Bay: 117, Marlins vs. Padres
The 25 or so lowest intraleague counts all belong to the three teams referenced above, which stands to reason since the Rays and D’backs didn’t come into existence until 1998, and the Brewers switched leagues that same year. The other ’93 expansion team, the Rockies, is second on the list with just 120 games against the Phillies. Taking all five of those teams out of the mix, we have to go back to a 1977 newbie, the Blue Jays, to find the lowest intraleague total; they’ve met the Twins just 314 times.
Closest matchup: .500, Reds vs. Brewers (80-80)
The Reds and Brewers have now played an entire season’s worth of games since 1998, and are locked up. Currently, 29 series are at .500, but this is the one with the most games, because 23 of the 29 involve matchups of under 10 games.
Closest matchup (400-game minimum): .499, Dodgers (1,010) vs. Cubs (1,007)
The Dodgers and Cubs first met on May 29, 1890, Brooklyn’s inaugural year in the National League after spending six seasons in the American Association. They split their first series 2-2, and have been pretty much splitting things ever since. Here are the six closest:
.49926: Dodgers (1,010) vs. Cubs (1,007); 1890-2007 .49925: Mets (334) vs. Cubs (333); 1962-2007 .49923: White Sox (326) vs. Angels (325); 1961-2007 .49923: Brewers (202) vs. Indians (201); 1969-2001, 2006 .49760: Padres (209) vs. Mets (207); 1969-2007 .49704: Orioles (934) vs. Twins (923); 1901-2007
Closest matchup, all-time run differential: 0, Cubs (291) vs. White Sox (291)
Not only are they currently tied with 30 wins apiece, they’ve each scored 291 runs in their 60 contests. The largest differential in any one of their games came on June 24, 2005, when the Hose bested the Bruins 12-2. There has been one nine-run difference, and one of eight runs.
Closest matchup, all-time run differential (500-game minimum): 1, Rangers (3,236) vs. A’s (3,235)
The A’s have a 10-game advantage in the series, which, given this has been going on for nearly 50 years, is not significant swing for teams that are even in runs scored and allowed. The Angels and Brewers are one run apart in 352 games, and the Angels and White Sox are three runs apart over the course of 652 games. The greatest spread is 1,877 runs between the Yankees and the A’s, with their 1,861 gap over the Twins coming a close second.