Silverman: NL Back In Control Of Interleague Play

It's Been A While

Steve Silverman
May 17, 2018 - 3:41 pm

The National League is back … or at least is on the right side of interleague competition for the first time since 2003.

There has been an imbalance between the two leagues for a long time, and the American League advantage has been about on-base percentage, slugging and power pitching.

The start of interleague competition in 1997 was a shot in the arm for the grand old game, as the two leagues had finally agreed to compete in something other than the All-Star Game and the World Series. Most long-time baseball fans were in a heightened state of excitement as a result.

The National League fired the first blow as the San Francisco Giants went into Arlington, Texas and beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 as Mark Gardner got the win, Darren Oliver took the loss, Rod “Shooter” Beck got the save and Stan Javier hit a home run for the winners.

The National League actually won the annual competition that first year, and had the edge in four of the first seven years. But the American League has held the edge in every season since the start of 2004.

Many of those advantages were overwhelming, including a 154-98 domination in 2006, a 149-103 advantage in 2008, 142-11- in 2012 and 167-133 in 2015.

But this year, it is different. Much as the American League broke through against the powerful National League in the All-Star Game in 1983 with a 13-3 triumph after losing 19 of the previous 20 games, the NL has a 37-20 edge as of May 17 after losing the interleague competition for 14 consecutive seasons.

While the American League has a number of glamorous players including Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, George Springer and Jose Altuve, the league has a plethora of awful teams.

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Many of those teams are competing in the American League Central Division. A quick look shows the Cleveland Indians are in first place again this year, but after putting powerhouses on the field in each of the last two years, the Tribe is in first place with a .500 record and manager Terry Francona doesn’t have anywhere near the firepower he had at his disposal in either of those years.

The Minnesota Twins were selected by quite a few experts to give the Indians a run for their money, and they are only a game and a half behind, but their 21-23 record is a huge disappointment considering the presence of Brian Dozier, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer.

The Tigers are right where they should be at 19-23, but then the bottom drops out with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox.

The Royals are 13-30 and have been torn asunder by free agency and their small-market mentality. After playing in the World Series in 2014 and winning it in 2015, the Royals took on a woe-is-me attitude with their big-name free agents and acted as if it were their destiny to fall to pieces.

The White Sox are baseball‘s sad-sack team. The White Sox are trying to emulate the cross-town Cubs with a tear-down and eventual build-up. Well, say this for manager Ricky Renteria and the rest of the stupefied organization – the tear-down has gone quite well as evidenced by their 10-29 record.

In addition to those teams, the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers have also been basically non-competitive.

On the other hand, the NL has been full of surprises, as the Atlanta Braves are 10 games over .500 and in first place in the NL East, where they are a game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cincinnati Reds are in dead last in the NL Central, and they are the only team in that division below .500. As bad as the Reds are, they have won seven of their last 10 and have shown quite a bit of life and hope in the past two weeks.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have fallen apart after losing the seventh game of the World Series a year ago.

The NL has been far more competitive this year than it has been at any time in the last 15 years.  The prospects appear much better than they do in the American League because the only truly brutal teams are the Miami Marlins and the Reds, and we already chronicled how Cincinnati may be starting to pick it up.

The National League was once the league of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan and Richie Allen. While the NL was putting those stars on the field, the only true AL stars were Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski.

There was a similar imbalance in the pitching as the NL had hurlers like Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Ferguson Jenkins, Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton. The American League had Jim Palmer, Luis Tiant, Denny McLain and Jim Kaat.

The 1960s and ‘70s belonged to the NL and the gap between the two leagues was Grand Canyon-esque. The AL turned it around with a similar domination, but now it looks like the AL is taking on water while the NL gets healthy.

Baseball runs in cycles, and it’s exciting to see a turnaround after such a long period of AL domination.

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