When 'prime' series have 'no juice,' interleague play loses its value

The Mariners didn't draw much too much excitement in Pittsburgh in early May. (USATSI)
The Mariners didn't draw much too much excitement in Pittsburgh in early May. (USATSI)

What we're trying to say is this Subway Series, it has no juice.

-- New York Daily News

The 2013 edition of the Freeway Series begins Monday. . . . The Dodgers do not project a sellout, or anything close.

-- Los Angeles Times

Never has there been a City Series matchup generating so little enthusiasm in Chicago.

-- Chicago Tribune

Does anybody care? Anywhere?

This is the week when baseball is showcasing interleague play. This is the week set aside for what baseball now calls "prime rivals."

This is the week when we all once agreed that interleague play actually works, at least in the biggest markets.

This is the week when we find out that even the best of interleague play has "no juice."

With 15 teams in each league, we're stuck with interleague play now, stuck with it every day of the season. Someday soon, that won't even bother us that much (but only after the National League adopts the designated hitter so that the rules are the same for all games).

But interleague play was sold originally on the basis that fans love it. MLB proved every year that fans loved it, even if it took using statistics that actually proved that fans love going to the ballpark on mid-summer weekends (especially when there are good promotions).

This season, with interleague games played on weeknights in April and May, there's no sign at all that fans love it. The Rangers didn't draw in Milwaukee. The Mariners didn't draw in Pittsburgh. The Phillies didn't draw in Cleveland. The Royals didn't draw in Atlanta.

So it's really all about this week -- this week with no juice, nothing close to a sellout, so little enthusiasm.

This week, when we learn that the Tigers and Pirates are "prime rivals." So are the Rockies and Astros, the Rangers and Diamondbacks and the Braves and Blue Jays.

Baseball cut these "prime" series down to four games this year, from six the last few seasons. They packaged them all together this week, the only week when all 30 teams are playing interleague games.

It's supposed to feel special.

Instead, it just makes the schedule more unbalanced.

Think of the American League East, where the Rays are the only team that plays the woeful Marlins -- while the Orioles are the only team that gets stuck with games against the Nationals.

Think of the National League West, where the Rockies get a break by playing the Astros while the Giants get the A's and the Diamondbacks get the Rangers.

Whatever you think of the rest of this season's schedule (and many have found good reasons to hate it), MLB made one great improvement over the last few years. For the most part, teams within divisions play all of the season opponents.

Except for this week.

If these series generate big interest, it's an acceptable tradeoff.

Perhaps they would, if the Mets weren't one of the worst teams in the game, and if the Yankees had more of their recognizable stars available. Or if the Cubs and White Sox weren't mediocre. Or if the Dodgers and Angels hadn't spent most of the first two months competing for the title of baseball's most disappointing team.

Yes, that goes for any series, but these aren't supposed to be just any series. These are supposed to be special series.

This week is why we got interleague play in the first place.

So why does it seem that so few people care?

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