Tigers must validate AL superiority
Claims of dominance will be put to the test in World Series
The way the two leagues stacked up this season, winning the American League pennant appears to be much like winning the Democratic primary in a Chicago mayoral election: There is still something left on the schedule, but the real issue has already been decided.
The American League dominated the National League in Interleague Play this summer. The Detroit Tigers, the new AL champs, were typical of this trend. They went 15-3 against what used to be known as the Senior Circuit. They won every series against each NL team that they were required to play. They were 8-1 at home and 7-2 on the road against Interleague opponents.
They were 3-0 against, oh, for instance, the St. Louis Cardinals. It is not a stretch to suggest that the Tigers were considerably better than the NL Central opponents that the schedule gave them -- and gave them seems to be the proper term.
The Tigers were 80-64 the rest of the time, which is to say the AL time. They were even under .500 (16-17) against the AL East. It is also not a stretch to say that life was easier for the Tigers when they were playing the other league. And that, of course, is the whole point.
AL adherents -- and they seem to be more numerous than usual -- will suggest with straight faces that there are many more teams over there that are significantly better than anybody the NL can offer.
For the purposes of this argument, those teams would include, obviously, the AL's four postseason teams. The Minnesota Twins were 16-2 against the NL. The New York Yankees were 10-8 against the NL. True, the Oakland Athletics were 8-10 in Interleague Play, one of only four AL teams with a sub.-500 mark in Interleague action. But they fired their manager, Ken Macha, which indicates that the organization thought that the club was underachieving anyway.
But these same AL adherents will also contend that the Chicago White Sox were also better than any NL club. The White Sox were 14-4 against the NL. And, the argument goes, when they were healthy, the Boston Red Sox were better, too. The healthy Red Sox were 16-2 against the NL.
Some will go as far as suggesting that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were also better, and maybe the Toronto Blue Jays, too. At the end of the day in these discussions, every single AL club that finished above .500 gets mentioned as being a pennant-winner if only it were competing in the other league.
Nobody gets carried away and mentions in this context the Kansas City Royals or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who lost 100 and 101 games, respectively, this season. But what the AL proponents will mention is that both the Royals and the Rays had, of course, winning records in Interleague Play. The point is all too obvious: Even the worst two teams in the AL, given 18 games against a cross-section of NL teams, came out winners.
Apart from the actual Interleague competition, how an AL team would fare in the NL is pure argument and speculation. All of the numbers point in the AL direction, but in the absence of 162 actual contests, you cannot know these things for certain.
But there will be this one major exception in the oldest and grandest and most traditional and most important Interleague competition of all -- the World Series.
The AL champions, the Tigers, will be eager to win for their own valid reasons. But in the process, they will be asked to carry the pride and now also the boasts of an entire league.
The Tigers should be favored in this event. With seven straight postseason victories, they are currently playing the best baseball on the planet. But beyond that, part of what will make them favorites is the simple fact that they are the champions of the AL.
You can tell by looking at the standings that there are still two Major Leagues. But by looking at Interleague competition in 2006, or by the very act of looking at both leagues in 2006, one of these leagues seemed to be a lot more major than the other one.
The NL champion will have a golden opportunity to get this gorilla off its back and get even in one Fall Classic. The alternative is that the Tigers, the baseball version of the Chicago Democratic mayoral primary winner, will win the general election, or its baseball equivalent -- the World Series.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.