Interleague play usually time for American League to shine

I’ve never been much for gimmicks. I knew the XFL—the pro football league conceived by pro wrestling honcho Vince McMahon—would last about as long as New Coke and Cop Rock.

I’ve always been wary of two-for-one sales (as comedian Dennis Miller once said, “Two of shit is shit!”).

And I don’t even want to talk about the deep scars that still linger from two iconic television shows—The Brady Bunch and Married With Children—going the gimmick route by unnecessarily introducing annoying cousins to an otherwise flawless cast.

So when baseball commissioner Bud Selig brought interleague play into his sport in 1997—for the first time ever, the American League would play the National League outside the confines of the World Series—my initial anger as a baseball purist was tempered by the confidence that Selig’s experiment would quickly blow up in his face.

Instead, here we are 14 years later, and there’s no denying that Selig struck gold with interleague play, which has led to significant attendance spikes and additional media attention each year. Me? I hate it that my teenage son’s first Dodgers-Yankees memory occurred in mid-June rather than mid-October. But I’m resigned to the fact that Selig’s baby is here to stay, so … I might as well try to profit from it!

With interleague play taking over the baseball calendar the next two weeks (June 17-July 3), here’s a bit of a history lesson, capped by some recommendations. (Note: My bankroll remains at $7,286.)

Not-So-Junior Circuit: The National League dominated the first year of interleague play in 1997, going 117-97. Since then, the AL (a.k.a. the “junior circuit”) has pummeled the NL, earning bragging rights in 10 of the last 13 seasons, including the last seven in a row. In fact, going back to 2004 and including the 42 interleague games played last month, the AL has a 994-810 edge—good for a .551 winning percentage.

To put this into perspective, consider that Florida’s .543 interleague winning percentage (129-108) is tops in the 16-team NL. If the Marlins played in the AL, they’d rank fifth behind the Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox, Twins and Angels.

The Good: The Yankees (four), Red Sox (two), Marlins (two), Angels, White Sox, Cardinals and Giants account for 12 of the 14 world championships in the interleague era. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), all seven of those squads have winning interleague records, led by New York (146-103), Chicago (144-105) and Boston (142-108).

One exception: the Twins, whose .562 winning percentage (140-109) ranks fourth. Despite several recent postseason appearances, Minnesota hasn’t made the World Series since winning it all in 1991.

Of course, when it comes to wagering success in baseball, nothing is more important than starting pitching. So it’s worth noting that no pitcher has had more interleague success than White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, who is 23-6 all time against the NL. And in his last 13 interleague starts, Buehrle is 10-0 with a 1.79 ERA.

The Bad: Here’s a surefire way to make some dough betting baseball the next two weeks: Go against the NL West. Of the five teams in the division, only the Giants (118-109) have a winning record vs. the AL, while the Diamondbacks (.454), Rockies (.495), Dodgers (.458) and Padres (.418) are all underwater. Ditto for the NL Central, where only St. Louis (111-97) has had success in interleague play, while the other five teams in the division—Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros and Pirates—are a combined 101 games under .500 against the AL.

The Ugly: OK, so that last statistic is a little misleading because it includes the Pirates, whose 75-124 interleague mark is far and away the worst in baseball (no other team has fewer than 91 interleague wins).

Not that the Pirates are alone at the bottom of the interleague barrel. Baltimore (110-140) and Kansas City (116-142)—which, like Pittsburgh, have had a miserable last couple of decades—haven’t exactly contributed to the AL’s interleague success. Meanwhile, in recent years, the Dodgers have had big problems against the AL, losing 61 of their last 90 overall and 51 of their last 67 in AL ballparks.

Best Bets: So how do we turn all this information into cold, hard cash? Well, the Yankees play four straight series against teams with losing interleague records (Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Brewers). As enticing as that is, the red-hot Red Sox get to feast on the Brewers, Padres, Pirates, Phillies and Astros—five squads with a cumulative 476-605 interleague record.

Additionally, the Twins host the interleague-inept Dodgers on June 27-29; the White Sox face the Cubs six times, plus play three-game sets against the Diamondbacks, Nationals and Rockies (all sub-.500 interleague records); and the Angels get six games against the rival Dodgers.

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