Tigers manager Jim Leyland was on to something when he said interleague play, now in Year 15, has "run its course." The Detroit skipper was wrong, however, about ditching it completely. Interleague play remains worthwhile if only because of the few "natural" rivalries and because it gives teams in one-league markets a chance to see stars from the other league.
Sure, interleague play seems popular -- interleague games get a 12 percent attendance boost, MLB likes to claim - but that's overrated because of some dubious accounting. Baseball plays 67 percent of its interleague games on weekends -- when the gates are higher -- and compares the attendance to all intraleague games, of which only 42 percent are played on weekends. That's why we get this nonsense of interleague play this weekend, followed by three normal weeks before it picks up again.
There does seem to be something stale about the whole AL vs. NL thing. What it needs is updating, and here is how to do it:
• Cut the number of interleague games per team from 18 down to 12.
• Cut the "natural" rivalries from six games to three. We don't need the Yankees and Mets playing six times every year. The thrill is gone, and such double series create more schedule inequities.
• Play the 12 interleague games in a dedicated two-week block either heading into or out of the All-Star break. Right now we are getting interleague play during the NBA and NHL playoffs. It's lost on the sports calendar. For baseball, the message is simple: own July. Brand interleague play as a dedicated fortnight -- with no three-week break in between.
• Use the DH in NL parks and ditch it in AL parks. The Red Sox play nine straight games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Houston. Shouldn't those NL fans get to see David Ortiz and AL baseball? And wouldn't it be cool if fans at Fenway Park saw baseball played under NL rules? Last time it happened: Game 7 of the 1975 World Series.
Interleague play does bless us with the excitement of a Houston-Toronto matchup tonight. No, seriously. It's one more chance to watch Jo-Jo (Oh No) Reyes start a game without getting a win. It's happened 26 straight times, the most since Matt Young went 27 straight winless starts (1992-94) and two short of the live-ball era record of Matt Keough (1978-79).
Talk about your funks. We're talking the anti-DiMaggio -- the Jolted Jo-Jo. The last time Reyes won a start it was a Friday the 13th in 2008 -- so long ago that 10 of the 11 players used by the Braves in that game no longer play for the organization, including Reyes himself.
Let's be honest: It takes more than bad luck to start 26 in a row without a win. Reyes has a 5.98 ERA in those 26 starts. He has failed to get a win against more than half the teams in baseball (16). He does have seven quality starts, but he also has made 12 starts in which he didn't even last long enough to qualify for a win, no less get one.
Tonight he goes up against the worst team in baseball, the Astros (15-29). Can't you just feel the excitement?
Who would you rather have, Cliff Lee or Wandy Rodriguez? Silly question, right? Lee is a postseason gunslinger and part of the Four Aces of the Philadelphia staff. Rodriguez is . . . well, rather unknown and unaccomplished.
But the two lefties are more alike than you think, at least over the past three years. Besides being the same age and having signed multi-year deals this past off-season, they have put up some similar numbers from 2000-11 -- except when it comes to their pay stubs.
Of course, you still would take Lee over Rodriguez any day, but the point is that Lee's reputation has exceeded his regular-season production since he won the Cy Young Award in 2008. Take a look at their numbers from 2009-11 heading into this weekend (Lee starts Saturday; Rodriguez starts Sunday):