INTERLEAGUE PLAY RETURNS FOR AN EXTENDED STAY
We had a quick taste of Interleague play in Major League Baseball back in May. Now, it's time for a two week onslaught with 14 out of 15 daily series matching teams from the National League against teams from the American League.
The American League has been dominant in recent seasons. But there are signs that things are moving back toward equality.
*Last year many NL teams posted winning records vs. the AL. Yes, the AL still won the overall record for the season. But, that was because Houston and Pittsburgh (bad teams in a bad NL division) were particularly horrible. It wasn't so much the whole AL being superior (which was close to being true a few years ago). It was mostly equality with two real NL dogs pulling down the record.
*The NL continued in the offseason to take pitchers from the AL. As we mentioned yesterday, Milwaukee added both Shawn Marcum and Zack Greinke. Cliff Lee is back with Philadelphia. The AL had dominant personnel during their peak run. The NL has been more aggressive with salaries and acquiring talent.
*The NL looks to have done the better job with their youth movement too. That can be hard to judge because there are good young prospects (and young stars!) in both leagues. But, part of the NL catching up was that they improved their depth with some old fashioned franchise building.
The 2011 story of IL baseball is yet to be told. The first few pages are in the books though. Let's quickly review what happened in that first weekend of Interleague action back in May.
AMERICAN LEAGUE SERIES WINNERS
Cleveland beat Cincinnati 3-0
Seattle beat San Diego 3-0
Boston beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1
New York Yankees beat the New York Mets 2-1
Baltimore beat Washington 2-1
Chicago White Sox beat the LA Dodgers 2-1
LA Angels beat Atlanta 2-1
Cleveland was a big success story. Cincinnati was a playoff team from last year, and that's a rivalry series. So, it looked to the whole world that the Indians were 'for real' after that big sweep capped off a great start to the season. THEY'VE ABSOLUTELY COLLAPSED SINCE! So, it's hard to know now what to expect from the Indians in the rest of IL play.
Seattle was a pleasant surprise for the AL. San Diego is struggling this year though, so it's not the same as sweeping a contender. Still that was a very positive result for the AL.
The Yankees and Red Sox going 2-1 at home against the Mets and Cubs is part for the course. The AL powers are supposed to beat NL also-rans (and the Cubs are now worse than also-rans) at home. We can't consider those series wins a plus for the AL. That's just taking care of business.
The other three 2-1 series wins, for Baltimore, Chicago, and the LA Angels do speak well for the AL in our view. Baltimore has improved from past disasters even though they'll be stuck in a killer division unless realignment saves them. The Dodgers have a tough pitching staff to deal with if you haven't seen them before. Chicago dealt with them, and have been moving back toward the top of their division since. Nice win for the Halos over a playoff contender like Atlanta. Like Cleveland, the Angels have taken a few steps backward since that weekend in May.
So, for us, that's FIVE positive signs for the AL heading into expanded IL play if you're looking for red flag indicators about what might be ahead. But, TWO of those come with caveats that the teams aren't playing as well now as they were back then.
Let's look at the matchups the National League won.
NATIONAL LEAGUE SERIES WINNERS
San Francisco 3-0
St. Louis 2-1
Defending World Champion San Francisco swept cross-town rival Oakland (helping to trigger a slide for the A's). Those were home games. But, any sweep is an accomplishment. The Red Sox and Yankees couldn't sweep inferior opponents. San Francisco did.
Arizona basically announced their surge back to respectability with a sweep of then slumping Minnesota. Gotta be impressed with that…though we have our eyes on the Twins now given their recent surge.
Philadelphia and St. Louis were supposed to succeed at home vs. Texas and at Kansas respectively. But, we are slightly more impressed with those 2-1 wins than we were from the parallel victories of the Red Sox and Yankees. Philly was going 2-1 at home against a World Series team. St. Louis was going 2-1 on the ROAD against a state rival. Those go in the plus column in our view as good indicators.
Pittsburgh's 2-1 win over Detroit was impressive then, and sure doesn't look any worse now. The Pirates haven't hit upon their annual slide yet. Detroit is back into a neck-and-neck race with Cleveland in the AL Central. Gotta give the NL pros for that win too. That's FIVE so far that might go down as 'early warnings' for good news in the NL down the road.
That brings us to a couple of trouble spots. At the time, Houston beating Toronto 2-1 on the road seemed HUGE as a good indicator for the NL, as did Florida going 2-1 at home against a state rival playoff team Tampa Bay. Those are big time results for series underdogs. The problem is, BOTH Florida and Houston have fallen off the map since then. Florida basically turned into the worst team in baseball in a finger snap. Houston is still officially the worst team in baseball because they've been losing so much too.
We'll need more evidence. Maybe the NL has made such tremendous strides forward that what Florida and Houston did were truly meaningful. Maybe those were flukes that need to be discounted because both teams have been so helpless since.
DIDN'T PLAY IL GAMES
Colorado and Milwaukee played each other rather than an American League opponent (there are two extra teams in the NL, so there's always one NL game on an IL weekend). Given Milwaukee's good form of late, and Colorado's historical home field advantages vs. the AL, the NL may perform better overall moving forward than they did in the opening weekend.
All told, that's five positive indicators for each team in terms of series results…with a couple of question marks in Florida and Houston that favor the NL, plus the fact that Colorado and Milwaukee didn't play anyone yet…which could also mean positive future results for the NL.
At this point, we're going to consider the leagues EVEN and let upcoming results tell their story. The Las Vegas betting markets may still be thinking the AL is the stronger league though…offering up potential value opportunities for select NL teams.
We'll talk more about this issue as the next two weeks unfold. We think the best 'indicator' series this weekend for what to expect down the road are:
*Milwaukee at Boston: Two HOT teams facing of in what could feel like a World Series environment at Fenway Park.
*Texas at Atlanta: Two contenders (including the defending AL champ) in another showcase matchup.
*Philadelphia at Seattle: Road tester for the NL favorites against an AL team that's been having good success lately.
*Pittsburgh at Cleveland: Given the recent slump of the Indians, we may get a good read on what both teams will be doing the rest of June right here.
*Detroit at Colorado: Hot visitor against a team with a strong home field edge in IL play because AL teams don't play at altitude normally.
*Chicago White Sox at Arizona: Comparable spots in many Power Rating assessments that we've seen.
*Toronto at Cincinnati: Same story here…the Reds have a better record at the moment, but might not if they were in the AL East and Toronto was in the NL Central.
*Baltimore at Washington: Ugly series except to loyalists locally…but this is likely to be a good indicator series since the inferior team will have home field working for them.
In these, we won't give any credit for 2-1 series wins for the favorite:
NY Yankees at Chicago (Cubs are awful)
Tampa Bay vs. Florida (Marlins are slumping)
San Francisco at Oakland (A's are slumping)
St. Louis vs. Kansas City (Royals are slumping)
NY Mets vs. LA Angels (Halo's are slumping)
Minnesota vs. San Diego (Twins hot lately, Padres struggling all year)
That should give us AND YOU a lot to think about this weekend. JIM HURLEY has already circled a few games EACH DAY that are likely to qualify for major release status unless rainouts or injuries adjust the projected pitching matchups. The fun for NETWORK starts TONIGHT with a FABULOUS FRIDAY FREE-FOR-ALL that will get things moving in a very profitable direction.
You can purchase tonight's plays here at the website with your credit card. We also have great rates for the rest of the season. JIM HURLEY is planning to make so much for you this weekend that it will cover the cost of the full season and still have plenty left over to celebrate with!
If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Don't forget to check on early bird football rates when you call. The sooner you sign up for football, the more you save!
Back tomorrow for more baseball coverage. IL play is going to be a lot of fun. FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS!
This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.
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