This past Sunday I was in a house where the television was tuned to the last game of the Yankees-Astros series. I didn't pay much attention to it, but as I walked through the room as the Astros made the final out to give the Yankees the sweep, it crossed my mind that I hate interleague play. There are a number of reasons, not the least of which is that with each passing year it makes the schedule within divisions less and less fair, especially since the unbalanced schedule came back into play in 2001.
I don't say this as an Orioles fan. I say this as a baseball fan. I know the Orioles could be scheduled to only play the Astros and the Pirates in interleague and they'd still have the worst record in baseball. But interleague play, combined with the unbalanced schedule, has made the individual schedules of each team in a division so different that it hardly seems fair to anyone. In a 162 games season it should be possible for each team in a division to have close to identical schedules (and before interleague started in 1997 and the unbalanced schedule in 2001, they pretty much were).
But take a look at some of the discrepancies among teams in the AL East this year in interleague:
Rays: Diamondbacks - 3, Braves - 3, Astros - 3, Padres - 3, Marlins - 6
Yankees: Diamondbacks - 3, Astros - 3, Dodgers - 3, Phillies - 3, Mets - 6
Red Sox: Diamondbacks - 3, Rockies - 3, Dodgers - 3, Giants - 3, Phillies - 6
Blue Jays: Diamondbacks - 3, Rockies - 3, Phillies - 3, Padres - 3, Giants - 3, Cardinals - 3
Orioles: Marlins - 3, Mets - 3, Padres - 3, Giants - 3, Nationals - 6
The Blue Jays I guess don't have a natural rival, so they play an entire extra team than the rest of the AL East. And the Red Sox are somehow paired up against the Phillies as their "natural" rival. What kind of sense does that make (although at least it's closer than the Braves, against whom they used to play six games)?
It's not about the talent level that any team will play against on a given year, it's about the fact that in interleague play alone changes the balance of the division. Imagine the Red Sox finish the year in first place, one game ahead of the Rays. Who knows what might have happened if both teams had an equal playing field, opponent-wise?
When interleague started, they at least TRIED to make it fair. Back then each team played the teams in their corresponding division, and all the same number of times. But when some bright young fellow figured out that MLB might make more money if the Angels and Dodgers play each other six times a year, we were forced into "natural" rivalries. Then, with the advent of unbalanced schedules (or, as I like to call it, "The best way to make sure the Yankees and Red Sox can play each other on national tv four hundred times per year), it got even wonkier. It became difficult to evenly lop off games against the entire AL because every team was locked into 18 games against every other team in their division.
Now, thanks to interleague and thanks to the unbalanced schedule, the amount of games each team in a division plays against other divisions in the AL is jacked up as well. Going back to the Rays and Red Sox example: in 2010, not only do those two teams have 15 interleague games where they don't play the same opponent, because of the corner the rest of the schedule has been painted into, now the Red Sox are only facing the Twins five times in 2010 while the Rays face them eight. The Rays play the Rangers six times and the Red Sox play them ten, and the list goes on. It's absurd.
This isn't groundbreaking information, not by any means. But it's something that bugs me every year. And when you take time to look at the numbers, it's kind of crazy just how different the schedules of divisional rivals are.
If I had authority over the schedule I'd do away with interleague and the unbalanced division games altogether, but that will never happen. They just make MLB too much money. But there has to be something that can be done to ensure that the Red Sox don't play the Phillies more times than the Twins, or that the Blue Jays and Yankees have less than 22 games that don't overlap, opponent-wise. I know that it's hard to coordinate a schedule of 162 games across 30 teams, but surely they can figure out a way to keep the Red Sox from playing the Mariners five more times than the Blue Jays do. Can't some nerd can write a computer program for that?