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3 to Watch: The 'Interleague inequities' edition

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
The Yankees' three-game series with the Mets is just one of four tough interleague draws for the Bombers. (US Presswire)

As much as the Yankees and their fans enjoy complaining about perceived unfairness, it's amazing that we haven't heard more about this:

The Yankees probably have the toughest interleague schedule of any team in the American League.

The Yankees play their normal six games against the Mets, who aren't the easy mark they were expected to be. They also, for some reason known only to the schedule-makers, play six games against the Braves.

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Their other two series are against the Nationals and Reds, both first-place teams.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox get a series against the last-place Cubs, and last month they won two of three against the injury-depleted and surprisingly bad Phillies.

Don't even ask about the teams from the AL Central and AL West, any of whom could be in contention with the Yanks for one of the two AL wild-card spots.

This final round of interleague play under the current format begins Friday night, and it brings with it the now-usual issues of unequal (and thus unfair) schedules. Because baseball insists on six "rivalry games" a year for some teams, because it admittedly allows television partners to dictate some matchups, and because of the problems in mating a 16-team NL with a 14-team AL, the interleague schedule has gotten harder and harder to explain.

It's unclear what it will look like next year, but it will be different. With 15 teams in each league (after the move of the Astros from the NL to the AL), and with interleague play basically every night of the season, the format will necessarily change.

Let's hope it changes for the better. It almost has to.

But for this year, the Giants could benefit from living across the Bay from a bad A's team (they already won two of three, with three more to play), while the Dodgers will have six games with a revived Angels team.

The Indians are unfortunate to be paired with the first-place Reds (that means six meetings), while the White Sox get paired with the last-place Cubs (also six meetings). And, for no good reason, the White Sox get a series with the beat-up Brewers, while the Indians already had one (and lost two of three) against the improved Marlins.

In recent years, interleague play hasn't ended up having a huge impact on the final standings. For the most part, teams that have done well in interleague have done well within their own league.

But the disparity in schedules could end up deciding a race.

So if you don't like how it looks, go ahead and complain.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Johan Santana's no-hitter last week may also have worked against the Yankees. After manager Terry Collins allowed Santana to throw a career-high 134 pitches in the no-hitter, the Mets decided to give Santana a full week in between starts. Instead of facing the Nationals this week in Washington, his next start comes in Mets at Yankees, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. Santana's starts in the Bronx haven't always gone well, but counting postseason and counting games in the old stadium, he's 4-2 on the road against the Yankees in his career. Hiroki Kuroda, who starts for the Yankees, has won just once in seven career starts against the Mets (all for the Dodgers).

2. The Red Sox may have caught a break by having a series next weekend against the Cubs, but this weekend, they'll see the three best pitchers the Nationals have to offer (and three of the best the entire National League has to offer). After facing Stephen Strasburg on Friday, the Sox will see Gio Gonzalez in Nationals at Red Sox, Saturday (4:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his 2012 debut for the Red Sox, one year to the day after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

3. Two weeks ago, Justin Verlander was already looking forward to his start in Tigers at Reds, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Great American Ballpark. His Tiger teammate Drew Smyly wondered why, given Great American's reputation as a bandbox. Verlander's answer was simple: He can't wait to hit there. Verlander insists he's going to get a hit this year, even though he was 0-for-20 with 13 strikeouts in his first six seasons of interleague play. Verlander's 25 plate appearances (including five sacrifice bunts) are the most for any active player who has never reached base via a hit, a walk or a hit by pitch. They're not the most ever. Nellie King, who pitched for the Pirates in the 1950s, retired with 29 career plate appearances and no hits, walks or times hit by pitch. More significantly for the Tigers, Verlander will be trying to end a streak of three straight losses, his longest losing streak since 2008.


 
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