Cubs look to buck the trend

ChicagoBaseball

The Crosstown classic begins tonight, and continues through until Thursday. The teams appear to be on different arcs, with the Cubs playoff-bound and the White Sox thinking about who they can trade away at the deadline coming up. But none of that matters when the two teams take the field tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

On paper, it looks like the Cubs will be able to take it to the Sox, especially since Sox ace Chris Sale is out of action. This should be a mismatch, right?

But there’s an undercurrent that Cubs fans should be aware of, and it doesn’t bode well.

This year MLB has decided to create an interleague “home and home” series for every one of its teams. There were two games played on Monday and Tuesday in one city, with the action switched to the other ballpark for Wednesday and Thursday. Four days, four games, two ballparks. Fun, right?

Some of the matchups are geographically obvious, like the Cubs and the White Sox and the Giants and A’s in the Bay Area. But others are harder to understand. Boston and Atlanta are in the same time zone, and the Atlanta Braves were once the Boston Braves, but somehow they had an interleague series against each other already this season. The Red Sox took three of the four games of the series, so that counts as a win for the American League.

You might think that 4 game series like this should split two games apiece, with neither team able to declare victory over the other. Everyone ties, and nobody loses. But in only one of the 11 series so far this season has this happened. The Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins–bound together by being located in the upper midwest, I suppose–split their four games this season. But in 10 out of 11 series played so far, a winner could be declared.

Guess how many of these ten interleague series were claimed by the National League team? Five, right? After all, that’s half of ten, and it makes sense for the two leagues would split these series in this way.

But no, it isn’t five series for the National League, and five for the American League. In fact, that’s not even close to being the case.

Well then, let’s be optimistic and say that seven series went to the NL team, and three went to the  the AL team. After all, the American League pitchers have to bat sometimes, and that must work to their teams’ disadvantage, right?

But no, that’s not the case. In fact, you’re getting further away from the correct answer. You’re getting colder, I might say.

6 series for the AL, and 4 for the NL? Warmer.

7-3? Warmer, but not there yet.

8-2? Now you’re really warm.

9 wins the AL, and 1 for the NL? Congratulations.

Yes, the breakdown goes like this:

The Miami Marlins of the National League took 3 out of 4 from the Tampa Bay Rays when they played over four days back in May. And it’s all downhill from there, for the Senior Circuit.

Houston (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Detroit (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The LA Angels (AL) took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers back in May.

Seattle (AL) took 3 of 4 from the San Diego Padres.

Kansas City (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Cardinals to claim Missouri bragging rights.

Oakland (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the San Francisco Giants last month.

Toronto (AL) took 3 of 4 games from the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cleveland Indians (AL) outdid everyone by sweeping the Reds and claiming the Ohio Cup (or whatever it’s called).

So after 44 games of interleague play in these eleven “home and home” series, the American League has won 31 games, to just 13 wins for the National League. That’s a beatdown, no matter how anyone decides to look at it.

After the Cubs and White Sox play their series this week, there will be only the Mets and Yankees, Nationals and Orioles, and Rockies and Rangers left in this new format. I like the idea, and I hope it continues in the future.

But anyone thinking the Cubs will mop the floor with the White Sox needs to understand the odds of this happening aren’t real good.

With that said, Go Cubs!

 

 

Disrespecting Albert no more

When it comes to Albert Pujols and his willingness to leave St. Louis, it turns out I was right. I’m not always right, but on this one I was dead on. There really wasn’t any chance that Albert was going to sign with the Cardinals again, World Series or no World Series. After all those years in St. Louis, now he’s off to the American League.

As a Cubs fan, I loved the idea of seeing Albert playing half of his games at Wrigley Field next year. He would be in the 55-65 home runs and 15o-175 RBI range every year, with even a serviceable back-up hitter behind him (which, admittedly, the Cubs don’t have right now). The Pujols jersey would have been an immediate success in Wrigleyville, as I’m sure the sports stores in LA are selling them at a brisk pace as I type this.

The big market teams were the only ones that really had a shot to land him in the first place, and I took the view that the Cubs’ status as the one big market team in the Cardinals’ division meant something. But perhaps the idea of playing so many games in St. Louis over the years didn’t appeal to him too much. Or, more likely, the Cubs didn’t put enough money on the table.

But the American League angle is important. Take a look at somebody like Jim Thome, who stopped playing first base regularly at age 33, but has been able to extend his career many more seasons by DH’ing. Pujols is now 31, so he may have a season or two as a first baseman still in him, but he’s going to take the Thome route before too long.

And I’m also thrilled that he’s out of the National League. There will be an interleague game with the Angels here and there, and those could become a big deal as far as getting a ticket, but Albert has hurt the Cubs regularly over the years (two certain games in St. Louis last summer spring immediately to mind), and so I’m happy to be rid of him. Perhaps we’ll see him in the World Series at some point, but his role in my baseball universe has just dropped tremendously.

At Thanksgiving, I went to my parents’ house in Cardinals country. There seemed to be a feeling that the Cardinals’ latest championship had somehow pushed Albert toward staying with the team. This was delusional, in my mind, for the simple fact that the Cardinals were paying Matt Holliday more money than Albert Pujols. That’s a clear sign of disrespect, in my eyes.

The prevailing view that I encountered was a feeling that Albert’s made enough money already, and St. Louis is a great organization with great fans and great history, and it wouldn’t make sense for him to leave. I tried to bring the others around to my way of thinking, which is that if you’re the best–in anything–your pay should reflect this. Was Matt Holliday the best player on the Cardinals? Most people would say no to this, and yet he somehow made more money than Albert Pujols did last year. It doesn’t matter if he makes $100 or $100 million, I promise you he knows what the score was on that front.

If I’m the Angels’ owner, I give Albert my word that no player on my team will ever make more money than him while he’s on my roster. If Albert makes $25 million and I have another player coming in with huge credentials, I tell him that I can go no higher than $23 or $24 million, lest I offend my franchise player and future Hall of Famer. I hate that the numbers are that big, but the impact would be the same, regardless of the amount.

So the Cardinals, fresh off a remarkable October triumph, now have to fill a hole that they haven’t had in a long time.The money that they saved by not getting Pujols will help to restock their club with other players, but Opening Day 2012 is going to seem very strange to Cardinals’ fans, with LaRussa and Pujols now out of the picture. It surely presents an opening for the Cubs, so long as Theo and his wise men are smart about which players to add (or subtract, as the case may be). Spring training can’t get here soon enough for me.

Inter-league, all the time

Now that the Houston Astros have been sold and moved to the American League, we’re going to have to get used to an interleague series happening all the time. With 15 teams in both leagues, there’s no other way to do it. Every team is going to have to pair up with a team in the other league, in order to have a full slate of games on any given day.

This seems like more of a logistical challenge for scheduling purposes, but if MLB is throwing $35 million at the Astros’ new owner to make it happen, they must know what they’re doing. Few of the interleague matchups are very meaningful for me as a Cubs fan (the White Sox, of course, and perhaps the Yankees, but all of the others I can’t get too excited about), but a series with the A’s, while every other team is playing games against a league opponent, wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Life is all about change, after all.

The Houston Colt .45s were an expansion team in the National League in 1962, then they changed their name to the Astros when they moved into the Astrodome in 1965. They joined the National League West when divisional play started in 1969, and then moved over to the National League Central in 1994. They moved out of the Astrodome and into Enron Field in 2000, which then became Minute Maid Park in 2002.

But Houston’s uniforms of the 1970s and 1980s have also changed, as I suppose they had to. But the orange and yellow color scheme was so visually striking that I had to post a few examples here. Whatever the new, American League Astros will look like next year, they won’t be nearly as funky as Cabell, Puhl and Andujar were back in the day.