Preparing for interleague intrigue
AL-NL games start right out of gate this year, and continue well into September
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
On a windy morning at spring training, a trio of Phillies catchers met behind the batting cage to shoot the breeze.
The topic? Interleague intrigue, right from the get-go.
“We were just talking about that in batting practice, that it's a little weird to face the American League so early,” All-Star Carlos Ruiz said. “But it's a different schedule this year.”
Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels visit Cincinnati in an opener that's hardly traditional. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers finish the season at Miami — minus a designated hitter.
Derek Jeter and the Yankees cross over to the National League each month, then host World Series champion San Francisco in late September. Just a guess — New York fans will howl at the prospect of seeing Matt Cain and the pitching-rich Giants if a playoff spot is at stake.
Add up the scattered AL vs. NL matchups, and it's like a mini-World Series most every day.
“It's going to be totally different,” said Houston manager Bo Porter, one of six new skippers in the majors.
Might as well blame Porter's Astros, too. Their shift from the NL Central to the AL West left 15 teams in each league, creating all this havoc.
Opening day is March 31 in Houston, when Texas comes to town for a Sunday-night start.
That's followed by Angels-Reds on April 1. A few days later, Philadelphia plays its home opener — against the Kansas City Royals.
Just sounds jarring, doesn't it? “It is very strange,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. “This usually doesn't happen until June or July.
“What it does is it increases your workload on scouting, advance reports and things like that. You don't have a lot of familiarity on those teams.”
Previously, Porter said, it was easy to plan for blocks of interleague games.
“A lot of times, a National League team would call up a DH-type guy during that segment of their schedule,” he said. “Now that's hard to do because you're going to have interleague taking place the entire course of the season. It definitely changes roster construction.”
Porter already has his pitchers in the cage, working on their bunting. Too soon for Justin Verlander and the Detroit staff to swing away.
“We'll have to hit some, but it's a Catch-22 because I don't want Verlander breaking his finger,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
As for his AL Central champions closing on the road against the Marlins, “whatever is good for baseball,” the 68-year-old Leyland said.
“We have a designated hitter in the All-Star game, instant replay. Things change and if it is good for the game, I am all for it,” he said.
The Tigers, Boston, Toronto and Seattle each play at NL parks in September, leaving them a hitter short.
“It's definitely an advantage for the National League,” Leyland said. “It works out more advantageous to them. I think eventually they'll go uniform.”
Adds Rays manager Joe Maddon: “It's going to be clunky at the end.”
Baltimore doesn't play its first NL road games until Memorial Day, but has eight straight out West in August. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters figures he'll spend more time “going over scouting reports on new hitters we haven't seen.”
St. Louis doesn't see an AL opponent until it plays Kansas City in late May. But the Royals go to Philadelphia and Atlanta in the first 2½ weeks.
When interleague play started in 1997, Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook said, “It was something new and it seemed odd to a lot of people. The DH, same thing with that longer ago.”
“The idea of interleague play most every day, this is something else new. That's always been a question with interleague play — it's unbalanced, who plays who,” he said.
Baker is hoping for an early edge when Albert Pujols arrives.
“In the case of us playing the Angels, does Albert not play? Does he DH? I wouldn't mind if Albert just spectated,” he said. “He'd be a mean pinch hitter. He's probably greasing his glove right now.”
Later that week, Phillies great Mike Schmidt will test his arm. He was the MVP of the 1980 World Series when Philadelphia beat George Brett and the Royals — the Hall of Famers are set to throw out the first balls when Kansas City visits Citizens Bank Park for the first time since 2004.
“Playing your home opener against an AL team is weird,” Schmidt said. “Where's the charm in that?”