With the annual series against the National League nearing a close, I thought we should discuss the phenomenon of interleague play, which is controversial for fans and players alike.
Interleague play has been pretty kind to the Red Sox since its introduction in 1997. Their record from 1997 to 2007 is 105-88 (.544). In 2006, they went 16-2. Last year they were 12-6. So far this season, the Sox are 9-5 in interleague play. This fits into the larger pattern of recent AL dominance - the league is 427-329 from 2005-07.
Considering how well the Sox have done recently against the NL, you'd expect more enthusiasm from the team. Just a few days ago, Terry Francona griped about interleague to the ProJo:
"It’s not set up fair," he said. "You set your team up to play American League-style baseball and then you go play National League-style; you just do the best you can. We’re going to be asking pitchers to bunt and things they have not been asked to do. But, we’ve handled it for the most part and we’ll try to handle it again."
Unsurprisingly, some NL fans don't like interleague either. This story on the Astro's SBNation blog argues that the AL has a significant advantage over the NL because of the Designated Hitter rule. Some AL teams are constructed to take full advantage the DH, namely the Red Sox. When an NL team faces them (and Ortiz isn't injured), the Sox have a marquis slugger and the NL team is DHing their 9th best hitter.
That said, several AL teams don't get much production from their DHs - think the Mariners with Jose Vidro or the Royals with Billy Butler. Many teams use it as a place to rest position players while preserving their bats; the Angels and Rays do this, among others. Nevertheless, most AL teams are better designed to exploit the DH rule than NL teams are.
When AL teams play in NL parks, they lose their DH but gain a great pinch-hitter. Pitchers hitting is generally a wash, since most are terrible at it. So an AL team doesn't lose that much strategically coming to an NL park. A bigger concern is that AL pitchers unaccustomed to hitting and running the bases are risking injury. Chien-Ming Wang's recent injury attests to this fear. I don't think this worry is all that reasonable; the act of pitching is more unnatural than running the bases, and accounts for much more of their exertion as athletes.
My biggest issue with interleague play is the uneven schedules. This season the Red Sox play four playoff contenders: the Phillies (1st in NL East), the Diamondbacks (1st in NL West), the Cardinals (2nd in NL Central), and the Brewers (3rd in NL Central, 42-34). The soft part of their schedule was the Reds (35-42) and the Astros (35-41). The Yankees play the Padres, the Mets, the Astros, and the Pirates, all of which are struggling. Before the Reds broke it up, the Yanks had a 7-game winning streak going, sweeping San Diego and Houston in succession.
At the very least, division rivals should play the same teams. Prior to 2002, interleague was always between divisions, with the AL East teams playing the NL East, and so forth. That makes eminently more sense than alternating incompletely between divisions (ex. the AL East is mostly playing the NL Central this season). Moreover, I'm less bothered by the rules differences than the lack of parity - the NL shouldn't be losing this much when facing the AL. It must be frustrating for NL fans to watch their teams get overmatched every time interleague play comes around. That's not good for baseball.
Anyway, enough of my ranting. What do YOU think about interleague play? Should it continue as is, be modified, or be scrapped altogether?