Baseball's changing face: 15 in AL, 15 in NL

Posted Monday, Jul. 16, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Rangers takes

Matt Harrison: "It's definitely a change of pace and gives us a chance to see what National League play is all about and vice versa. It's neat, I enjoy doing it. And I think evening out every division is for the best."

Elvis Andrus: "To be able to see and play in another stadium that I haven't is a lot of fun. Baseball is similar both ways, especially for us. We do a lot of hit-and-runs and bunts, so it really doesn't matter to us, NL or AL."

Ian Kinsler: "I think it's going to be a lot of fun playing interleague throughout the year, having it randomly scattered throughout."

Joe Nathan: "It really isn't going to be much of a difference other than it's throughout the course of the year. I don't think it'll be much of an adjustment for us, and I think it's a good thing to balance out the divisions. Hopefully it'll help us with travel."

Schedule changes

What? MLB will have interleague play throughout the entire season, from Opening Day to Game No. 162.

Why? With Houston moving to the AL, there is an odd number of teams in each league -- 15. Therefore, there has to be at least one AL and NL team playing each other during each series period.

How many games? Under the collective bargaining agreement, teams will play at least 18 interleague games a season, and could play up to 20.

Format? The goal is to still have a block of intense interleague play during the season. Teams are unlikely to play two interleague series on the road during the final month of the season.

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Could the New York Yankees open the 2013 season at the Miami Marlins? How about the Texas Rangers taking on the Chicago Cubs in a season-ending series?

Those are possibilities for next season.

With the Houston Astros moving from the National League to the American League next season, there is an even split -- but odd number -- of 15 teams in each the AL and NL to balance out the divisions to five teams each.

It makes sense from a competitive standpoint, but it came with a notable concession -- there will be interleague play all season, including a season-opening series featuring an AL and NL team, as well as a season-closing series.

"Nobody wanted that, that's not a plus of the system," said Michael Weiner, executive director of the players association. "But the plusses of the system of going to 15-15 were so overwhelming that we live with that."

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig agreed that having an interleague game every day isn't ideal, but said, "I think 15-15 is going to work out very, very well."

Under the new format, teams will play six interleague series a season for 18 to 20 interleague games, similar to this season. An AL division will be matched up with a corresponding NL division each season, which will account for five series. The sixth series will match teams against a "traditional rival," such as Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs, Angels-Dodgers, etc.

The traditional rivals will play a single three-game series, or home-and-home two-game series. The standard three-game home-and-home series are gone.

This is viewed as a positive because it evens the playing field more. The Mets, for example, were the only team in the NL who had to play the Yankees six times a year, while other teams in the league or division didn't face traditionally strong teams as often.

In the years the NL East is matched up against the AL East, though, the Mets would play the Yankees six times. But the other NL East teams are playing the Yankees three times.

"The reduction of the number of traditional rivalry games was a function of fairness," Weiner said. "Whether we end up at three or four [games against a traditional rival next season] is a function of mechanics."

The Rangers will lose their "traditional rival" when the Astros move to the AL. The two most likely replacements are the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Colorado Rockies.

It's also a possibility that the Rangers and Astros could alternate teams in different years under the new format, with neither having a natural rival in the NL.

As for playing interleague games all year, Selig hopes to maintain an "intense period" of interleague play during the season. Additionally, MLB will try to avoid teams playing more than one series outside of their own league the final month of the season.

"Maybe a team has two interleague series in September, but they wouldn't have two [on the road]," Weiner said. "So they wouldn't have to add the DH or lose the DH."

In the end, every team within the respective division will have a similar interleague schedule, and players are in favor of interleague play being randomly scattered throughout the season.

"It's going to be a lot of fun to play interleague throughout the year, and it's going to be a cool thing for the fans," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "And it'll be nice to have an even number of teams [in each league]. That's a good step for baseball."

The new collective bargaining agreement has teams playing no more than 20 interleague games a season. The CBA also states under the scheduling section that: "In each interleague game at an American League park, the designated hitter shall be used; at each interleague game at a National League park, the designated hitter shall not be used."

However, Selig suggested that MLB would re-evaluate that rule, and consider using NL rules in AL parks and AL rules in NL parks. That would allow pitchers to hit during interleague games at Rangers Ballpark, providing fans a view of how the opposing league plays the game.

"I happen to like that idea," Selig said. "We've talked about that for a while. That's something we should bear down this winter and think about because that's good."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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