Interleague's return promises exciting weekend
Will this be the year that NL ends AL's run of league dominance?
The 15th season of Interleague Play between the American League and National League gets under way this weekend, and you know what that means -- giant crowds, school's-out fun, traditional AL dominance, ideal weather, Albert Pujols' hot bat and eye-popping matchups.
The 2011 Interleague rotation of primary division matchups is: AL East vs. NL Central, AL Central vs. NL West, and AL West vs. NL East. There will be 252 Interleague games played in two segments: the first one this weekend and the second from June 17-July 3.
Cubs at Red Sox? That last happened at Fenway Park in the 1918 World Series, when Boston took advantage of right fielder Max Flack's two-run error in Game 6 and clinched what would be its last title until 2004. It will happen again on Friday night, and fans have tried to get their hands on hot tickets for that three-game series for a long time now.
Astros at Blue Jays? That has never happened, but they will meet this weekend in Toronto.
The Cardinals, led by all-time Interleague batting leader Pujols (.347, 180-for-518), will play in Baltimore for the first time, meaning this weekend marks the first time the Cards have been the road team against the Orioles since the two teams shared one city, before the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954.
All those great regional rivalries return this weekend, and maybe the best series of the entire Interleague slate will be at Citizens Bank Park, where Roy Halladay starts for the Phillies on Friday opposite Rangers starter C.J. Wilson. One night later, Cliff Lee faces the club he led to the World Series last fall. Could this even be a Fall Classic preview?
Interleague Play drew 8,379,834 fans in 2010, averaging 33,253 per game. The average Interleague attendance was 11.7 percent higher than the season's final intraleague average of 29,777.
Since its inception in 1997, Interleague Play has drawn an average of 33,261 fans per game, which is 11.8 percent higher than the intraleague average of 29,759 during the same span.
One of the big questions is whether the AL's dominance can continue, or if last year's NL breakthrough at the All-Star Game -- where it won for the first time since 1996 -- might be a sign of an Interleague power shift.
The AL posted a 134-118 record in Interleague Play in 2010, which marked the seventh consecutive year in which the Junior Circuit earned the edge in the season series, extending its all-time advantage to 1,808-1,652 (.523). The AL went 127-125 in 2004, 136-116 in '05, 154-98 in '06, 137-115 in '07, 149-103 in '08 and 138-114 in '09.
There could be a big milestone in this Interleague season. Derek Jeter had 2,966 career hits through Tuesday, and unless he heats up at the plate, No. 3,000 could come during the Yankees' Interleague stretch June 17-19 at Wrigley Field or June 20-22 at Cincinnati. Then, the Yankees come home to play three against the Rockies, followed by three against the Brewers before heading over to Citi Field for a final Subway Series of the season.
The first Yankees-Mets matchup is this weekend at Yankee Stadium. The Bronx Bombers will try to pad the best all-time Interleague record in the Majors. They are 144-102 (.585), followed by the White Sox at 143-104 (.579). The Marlins own the NL's top all-time Interleague mark at 127-107 (.543).
Having missed the opportunity last year due to the G-20 Summit, Toronto will get a second chance at welcoming back Halladay, who was the club's longtime ace before he was traded to Philadelphia for the 2010 season. Last year, the G-20 Summit caused that Phillies-Blue Jays series to be moved from Toronto to Philadelphia. This time, the teams are scheduled to meet July 1-3 in Toronto over Canada Day weekend.
In 2010, AL clubs compiled a .269 batting average with 233 home runs, 1,168 runs scored and a 4.16 ERA. NL clubs batted .251 with 242 homers, 1,098 runs and a 4.37 ERA. The White Sox posted the best record in Interleague Play in 2010 at 15-3 (.833), followed by the Rangers at 14-4 (.778) and the Red Sox and Mets, each at 13-5 (.722).