Interleague play is coming to a baseball stadium near you, bringing all the anomalies that come with it. The natural rivalries are fantastic to watch and great for bragging rights; trust me, I love, but also dread playing the St. Louis Cardinals, a topic we’ll dive into that once the I-70 series rolls around. AL pitchers are taking hacks at the plate, different strategies are implemented for different leagues and there are matchups you don’t normally get to see, but all in all it’s still baseball and a chance to win games against unfamiliar opponents.
It also might be the last year of interleague play as we know it, the annual three-week stretch of American League vs. National League baseball in June. Next year, the Astros move to the AL West creating an equal balance between both leagues (15 teams each), and there’s talk of interweaving interleague matchups all throughout the season. Nonetheless, let’s look at the 2012 edition of interleague play within the AL Central.
Taking a look at the division and its matchups with the NL, the Cleveland Indians play the toughest NL schedule against teams with an average .513 winning percentage. Next, is Kansas City playing against NL teams with a .486 winning percentage. After that, Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota follow. If you take a look at how the NL opponents stack up based strictly on home and away winning percentages alone, factoring in where the 2012 games will be played, Kansas City plays the toughest schedule (.533 winning percentage tied with Cleveland, Chicago plays the worst at .432) .
A few other tidbits on the Royals and interleague baseball: Since 2003, this is the closest the Royals (24-31) have been in the standings (seven games back of first place Chicago) at this point in the season when interleague play began. 2008 was the best year for the team when they went 13-5 against NL opponents, but they have also had dismal interleague stretches going 5-13 in both 2002 and 2011. The Royals are 121-155 lifetime in interleague play.
This season the team is 1-2, with those games coming at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks in May. The upcoming 15-game NL schedule includes visits to Pittsburgh, Houston and St. Louis. Milwaukee and St. Louis will make trips to Kauffman Stadium.
First, it’s off to face the Pittsburgh Pirates. Currently second in the National League Central division, the Pirates (29-27) trail the Cincinnati Reds by just two games. The Royals last visit to PNC Park came in June 2009, where they went 1-2. Kansas City holds a slight 13-10 edge over the Bucs since the beginning of interleague play in 1997.
Pittsburgh comes into the matchup with a 3.30 team ERA, good for fourth in the NL, as well as the majors. While their strength is in the pitching department, only giving up 3.59 runs per game, the Pirates are woeful and dead last in the NL at the plate hitting just .224 as a team (3.2 runs/game). They are only hitting better than the Oakland A’s in team average in the majors.
For the Royals, it’s their first venture into a NL park this season so along with the pitchers swinging the bats, the team is expected to show a new look defensively with Billy Butler playing first base, Eric Hosmer moving to right field and Jeff Francoeur moving to center.
Tonight, Luke Hochevar (3-6, 6.63 ERA) will face Erik Bedard (3-6, 3.72 ERA). Hochevar has never faced the Pirates, while the Royals defeated Bedard, as a member of the Seattle Mariners, 6-5 last April at Kauffman Stadium (Luke ironically started that game). Bedard has a career 3-2 record and 3.00 ERA against the Royals.
Saturday, the Pirates send James McDonald (5-2) to the mound with the NL’s second best ERA at 2.14, trailing only Brandon Beachy (1.87 ERA) of the Atlanta Braves. Vin Mazzaro (2-0, 2.25 ERA) will start for the Royals. Both starters have never faced either club.
And finally, the matinee on Sunday will feature Bruce Chen (5-5, 4.37 ERA) against A.J. Burnett (5-2, 3.76 ERA). Chen pitched his only game against the Pirates in his first start as a Royal back in 2009, he went 6+ innings in a 6-2 loss. Burnett is 4-3 lifetime with a 2.71 ERA against the Royals. He went 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA in two starts against Kansas City last year as a member of the New York Yankees.
The AL has won more interleague games against the NL every season since 2004.