Interleague Intrigue

I was able to watch firsthand the carnage in Boston, an agonizing 1-2 series that at the time I thought was a harbinger of things to come in a crucial stretch of interleague games that may well decide the Brewers’ playoff fate.  The Brewers did nothing to disprove my hunch in the second interleague series against the Tampa Bay Rays, which concluded this afternoon with a 6-3 loss.

So, the Brewers are 2-4 in interleague play in 2011, with two series against the Minnesota Twins and one against the Yankees yet to play.  Both are perennial playoff teams and will challenge the Brewers’ hitters and pitchers.

The Twins, who started off stone cold (17-37), have won a remarkable eight games in a row.  Although they sit at seven games under .500 (32-39), don’t let the record fool you; Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are back, and Jim Thome and Joe Nathan could soon join them.  A healthy Twins lineup will face the tail end of our rotation in the first series:  Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo, and Chris Narveson.

And then there’s the Yankees.  How a team with so many offseason pitching questions is hanging around the AL East in first place (43-29) is beyond me, but they’re riding a four-game win streak.  We can expect Greinke, Marcum and Wolf to take the mound, so there is hope here.  If the Yankees’ rotation falls into place the way I think it will, the Brewers should miss former teammate C.C. Sabathia.  Unfortunately, the aforementioned starters will have to deal with Mark Texiera, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez.  At Yankee Stadium.  Yeesh.

The Brewers’ main competition, the Cardinals, don’t have to worry about running this kind of gauntlet.  They went 2-1 against the bottom-dwelling Royals, and still have to face the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rays.  Anything can happen in baseball, but there’s no denying the Brewers have a much more difficult interleague schedule.  And in a division that could come down to the final days, we might be able to look back at this stretch of games and see precisely where things slipped away for the ‘Crew.

Of course, the Brewers are no stranger to interleague struggles.  Through 2010, the ‘Crew was 93-106 in interleague play, good for a .467 win percentage and among the worst teams in baseball (8-7 as an American League team in 1997).

I’m not calling for an end to interleague play; I really enjoy some of the matchups, so much so that I spent a ton of dough to go see the Brewers play in Boston.  And what’s more, it can really help a team like the Brewers, I think, to see what it will be like to face American League competition if and when they make the playoffs.

But – Bud Selig, are you listening? –  you CAN NOT give one divisional opponent a cupcake schedule, and another a schedule that looks like it was designed by Tony LaRussa.  If we are to continue interleague, it needs to be a balanced, division-versus-division fight.  If indeed the Brewers do wind up missing the playoffs by one or two games, or even three, we already know why, and it’s only mid-June.


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