It's that time of year again. The National League and the American League prepare to renew their rivalry as interleague action begins tonight. This is just a taste of interleague, with three games before it's back to normal, but it has already sparked debate in the majors over the merits of the battle between the Junior and Senior Circuit.
Jim Leyland came out the other day bashing interleague play, saying that while it was once a fun experiment, it has run its course and should be abolished. Leyland has a point. His Tigers were built to have a designated hitter. National League teams are built to carry bench players. The mixing of leagues forces teams to play outside of their normal rules and have a pitcher hit or a pinch hitter play DH.
This seems trivial, but there is a huge problem. Nobody expects a pitcher to be able to hit, so forcing an AL team to drop their DH for a pitcher evens the playing field a little, although it allows them to have a potent bat waiting on the bench to be used as a pinch hitter. When National League teams come to the American League, they have to promote a bench player to DH. Most players off of the bench in the National League are just not good enough to start regularly. This swings the advantage to the American League because they are built to carry nine starting caliber offensive players.
This brings me to the problem: balance. The difference between the leagues has created a huge disadvantage for the National League, which is evident in the numbers. The American League has won 1806 games compared to 1652 by the National League. Only five National League teams have a winning record in interleague play, compared to nine teams in the American League.
This imbalance creates huge problems for American League teams that carry a full-time DH. The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox come to mind as teams that do not want their DH in the field. Unfortunately, both teams face nine game road stands against the National League at the end of June. That means that David Ortiz may have to take some at-bats from Adrian Gonzalez and play terrible defense and Vladimir Guerrero may have to play outfield, which he showed in the World Series was a mistake.
Jim Leyland's remarks put him in the "Abolish Interleague" group, but that just isn't the answer. Pitching has evolved over the last couple of years and it seems like adding a DH to National League offenses would just step up the competition. It could be said that it would make the league too offensively driven, but I would argue that if you look at the two best pitching performances of the year, they came from Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander, both of the AL Central.
Adding the DH to the National League is a gutsy move. It's a move that would cap off Bud Selig's tenure as the commissioner very well. Interleague play needs to stick around. As a DC native, I love to go out and see the Orioles face off against the Nationals. I go to games at Nationals Park and Camden Yards each year for the Beltway Series and it's some of the most fun baseball I get to watch. Other classic rivalries need to be played out too. The Yankees and the Mets. The Cubs and the White Sox. Even the Cardinals/Royals, Indians/Reds and Rays/Marlins series have some big implications because all of those teams are in the race for the postseason.
I'm excited for the rivalry to be renewed. Baseball needs to keep the battles for state supremacy alive. Jim Leyland has a point that it's flawed now, but institute the DH in the National League and interleague play will become the heated battle that it should have always been.