Strength of Schedule   (06/26/00)

The Atlanta Braves have the best record in the NL.  However, their schedule has not exactly been tough: they have played 40 of the first 75 games against the Pads, Brewers, Phillies, Astros and Cubs.  In those 40 games, they are 24-16.  They have yet to play a division leading team and have only played 3 games (the opening series against Colorado at home) against teams that are in second place.  Which means against the rest of the league they are 22-13.

On the other hand, the San Diego Padres have played 40 of their first 73 games against division leaders or second place teams (Atlanta, St. Louis, Arizona, Cincinnati, New York).  They are 14-26 in those games.  Against the rest of the league, they are 19-14. Their record against the 4 other bottom teams in the NL- 9-3.  Lest one think that the Pads have gotten off easy in interleague play, the teams that the Braves played in the cross-league showdowns have averaged 39 wins.  The teams that the Pads have played have averaged 44 wins.

Just goes to show that the schedule is still an influence to this point in the season.

Speaking of schedules, a lot of fuss has been made that many of the division rivals will not be playing each other late in the season.  Boston will play New York only 4 more times this season and the Tribe and White Sox only play 3 more games with each other.  There have been oodles of proposals to make a better schedule for next year.  Many involve realignment; everything from Commissioner Bud Selig's radical realignment where half the teams switch leagues, to calls for either Arizona or Houston to switch leagues in order to even out the number of teams.

I'd like to suggest a possible solution: abandon interleague play.  Few if anyone cares if Seattle ever plays Montreal or San Diego during the regular season.  Nor does a Minnesota/Florida rank high in many people's to do list.  In fact, the only interleague games that raise much interest are the games in which cross-town rivals play.  Before interleague play, most of these teams played each other anyway in mid-season exhibition games.  What was wrong with that?  Nothing really, and it spared the country the possible travail of Tampa Bay/Milwaukee highlights.

Abandoning interleague play would be the best solution for a number of reasons: 1) the schedule makers would have much greater flexibility and 2) the schedule would not play as big a part in deciding the playoff teams as they do now.  Strength of the division plays a huge role in determining wild card teams with the current schedule.  If the Dodgers edge out the Reds by one game for the wild card spot this year, can anyone not seriously consider the fact that the Dodgers played only 6 interleague games against the top teams in the NL West gave them a huge advantage over the Reds, who had to play 9 against the Tribe and White Sox?

Say what you will about the balanced schedule, but there's no question it removes the advantages of the schedule and affords a much truer read on the quality of each team than any of the recent machinations devised by the people who are currently running baseball.  Removing interleague play will not only further that end even more, but will restore some of the intrigue in the biggest interleague match-up: the World Series.