Get Ready for Interleague Play
Ah baseball season is here. There is nothing better than going to the ballpark, getting some peanuts, a beer and enjoying beautiful weather as you watch the great American pastime. The first week of games has come and gone and there were some great matchups. You had Boston going to New York in a classic inter-division series, the Giants and Dodgers battled on the West Coast and the Angels went to Cincinnati.
No that wasn’t a typo – the Angels were in Cincinnati in the first series of the season thus beginning the new era of MLB scheduling where interleague play is year round. A change I for one absolutely hate.
With the Astros moving to the AL West, for the first time in years, the American and National Leagues are balanced. No longer will the NL Central be the odd division with more teams than anyone else. The move makes sense, there’s no reason that these leagues should have been unbalanced in the first place.
However, the change of interleague play from two distinct periods to throughout the season is going to hurt baseball in the long run. Each club will play 20 interleague games during the season in eight series: four at home and four on the road.
What makes this even worse is that the rival series (Cubs/Sox, Yankees/Mets, Angels/Dodgers etc.) will be played the week of May 27th in two two-game series with the venue changing after two games.
That means that the Cubs-Sox rivalry which was normally played over two weekends separated by about a month and drew tons of attention in Chicago will now be condensed into a four-day weekday battle hardly worth getting excited for.
Besides the rival series’ being played all at once, the schedule could very well kill the end of season divisional battles that can determine whether or not teams make the playoffs. The past few years the last week of the season, which has always featured divisional matchups, has determined whether a team makes the playoffs or if they clean out their lockers in September.
The best part about the last week of the season is that when you play someone in your own division there is familiarity there, the rivalry is there and that adds to the excitement. Divisional match-ups are the best thing in baseball and now to end the season you’re going to have unexciting interleague series with one team having a potential huge advantage over another team because of the matchups.
What do I mean? Let’s say the Tigers and Indians are battling for the last playoff spot in the American League. The Tigers get to play the Marlins the last weekend of the series while the Indians have to go to Minnesota. The advantage easily goes to the Tigers who get to go to the NL punching bag Marlins while the Indians have to go to their division rival. The Twins know the Indians. They have a reason to play hard and keep them out of the playoffs. The Marlins, we can assume will be out of the playoffs, and because they are playing the Tigers, a team they only face once every few years, there won’t be a lot of fire power left in south Florida.
Interleague play all season will also affect the flow of the season. The two leagues have different rules and play the game a different way. The designated hitter is obviously the biggest rule change but the overall pace of a game and the way you manage the game differs depending on what league you are in. Each week you might be playing an interleague game, which means the way the game is played, will change. Who you have pitching, the line-up you need and the way you use your bullpen will all differ based on what stadium you are playing in.
People compare MLB’s moving to interleague play similar to the NFL where any team in the NFC can play any team in the AFC week-after-week. However, the fact that football is played the same in both leagues and there is a week off in between games makes this point moot.
I also think that this schedule change might also lead to the inclusion of the DH in the National League, a move that many baseball purists will frown upon. Eventually people will rise up against the fact that each week you might be using the DH or not. The league will see this and eventually just move the DH to the entire league.
I’ve never been a huge fan of interleague play, but tolerated the old structure. This new system is going to be a black eye for the league and will disrupt the way baseball fans follow the game. But what’s done is done and we will have to see how it plays out this season – play ball.
Mike Zoller is a contributor for Porchdrinking.com. He works full-time in the Northwestern University Athletic Department. Follow him on Twitter @mikezoller.