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!

 

 

Even the throwbacks didn’t work

The Cubs have worn “throwback” uniforms–which are designed to recall earlier eras in their history–five times prior to last night’s game against the Giants in San Francisco. They won each of those games, including last summer in Fenway Park (shown above), and for the first interleague game against the White Sox back in 1997. And if there’s anybody who remembers when the other three games were, please leave a comment below and fill me in.

It’s rare for the Cubs to be perfect in anything. But five in a row, without a loss, was pretty impressive. And last night’s loss brought an end to this sort-of streak. They’re now 5-1 in throwbacks, which still isn’t bad, but the air of perfection they once had is gone now.

This is the sort of thing that really doesn’t matter to anyone, myself included. This season is down the tubes, with slightly more than 100 games left to play. It’s hard to spend six months in the offseason waiting for baseball season to return, and then be rewarded with this. But that’s the bargain I once signed onto, whether I fully realized that or not.

In plain terms, the annual progression works like this:

Summer = Baseball

Baseball = Cubs

Cubs = Losing (with a few exceptions) and Disappointment (always)

Then wait until next year, and repeat

So here we are again. Theo Epstein and his team will have a mulligan for this season, and next year we’ll see where we are. But the “wear throwback uniforms every day because we’ll never lose in them” strategy can now be tossed out the window.

It’s time for Chicago’s Civil War

Baseball and Chicago are just meant for each other. People sometimes say this is a Bears town, but in reality, there are just eight Bears games played in Chicago every year (ten if we’re really lucky). The Cubs and the White Sox, however, play that many games in a little over a week. And while 162 home games are played in this city each year, the six most important ones are the interleague ones. With apologies to the rest of MLB, these games are the ones that matter most.

The Civil War is an apt metaphor here, in the sense of North vs. South or even brother against brother. The battle lines are drawn, and anyone who claims they like both teams isn’t really a fan of either one. That’s just how it is in this city.

The White Sox hold the lead in the interleague games, and as long as they have a World Series trophy and the Cubs don’t, they have the last laugh. The weather will cooperate, and Wrigley Field will be packed with partisans on both side of the chasm that divides this city.

Only baseball forces Chicagoans into separate camps this way, but we accept these assignments willingly. We love the game, and we’ll keep coming back to it, whatever may happen on the field.  So bring it on!

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.