The Astros’ move to the American League threw quite the curveball to interleague play. Rather than having designated weeks in the middle of season where all interleague play took place, it’s now spread across the entire season. Having 15 teams teams in each league means that with 14 of the teams coupled up at any point in the season, the leftover 15th team in each league is left without a dance partner, and are required to dance together, even if it’s Opening Day or down the stretch in a pennant race (remember the Tigers finishing their season in Miami last year?).
While interleague play is now spread thinly across the season (the Cubs and White Sox played back in May, as did the Yankees and Mets, while the Dodgers and Angels will clash in August), the larger changes are that these rivalry series have now been truncated from six games (3 home and 3 away) to four games (2 home and away), and now those 4 games are played in succession opposed to spaced weeks apart.
The loss of two games to the rivalry series is definitely a blow for teams that have a natural rival, but having the games in succession gives these series a bit of postseason feel which is a positive. That said, I’d like to propose this change that I imagine many fans will like but will draw a chorus of complaints from baseball’s old grumpy guard.
Play a 5th game so one team actually is assured to “win” the series rather than having a possible split. Also, have the winning team of any year given the bonus of hosting the 5th game next year. I imagine many people’s reaction will be this.
Am I advocating that the winning team would then have 82 home games and 80 away games?
No. All teams would continue to have 81 home and away, just that the added 5th game would come from the pool of less sexy fare that would be on the schedule. It wouldn’t be at the cost of a division game or another Interleague game, so it would come from the dozens of games against teams in your league but outside of your division. For example:
The A’s won three out of four games last year and hence would host 3 out of 5 game series this year against the Giants. This season the A’s play the Indians six times yet play the White Sox seven times with four of those games at home. Are people really lusting to see that 7th A’s vs. White Sox game?
Trust me, nobody is going to lose sleep if the A’s don’t play the Blue Jays or White Sox a seventh time nor would the Giants shedding a 9AM Monday game versus the Mets be missed. Meanwhile, a 5th game versus the Giants and in Oakland would spell higher attendance and ratings for both teams, as well as just general fan interest now that there was something on the line.
If you’re a fan of any teams with a legitimate geographic rival, can you even tell me the history of who has won or lost the past several years? How many interleague rivals are going to split 2-2 and be left unfulfilled to some degree that there are no bragging rights?
For a sport that is having problems attracting and retaining fans, bringing a more potent taste of a postseason atmosphere to a large swath of the league would draw higher television ratings, attendance, and interest from the casual fans. It’s a small change and one that requires sacrificing a crummy game elsewhere on the schedule that really nobody will miss and often is a day game that is sparsely attended and watched if it’s even on television at all.
Sure it’s manufactured rivalry with small stakes and probably will give schedule-makers a headache but if you can add 10 or so more meaningful games to the league’s schedule while making the existing rivalry games a bit more meaningful, it’s hard to say that similar to the Wild Card, instant replay, and Interleague play, that the positives outweigh the negatives by a good margin.
Rivalries move the needle because there rarely is a bigger swing of emotion in terms of winning and losing outside of the postseason. MLB could use a shot in the arm here and really, you wouldn’t lose much at all.