20 years later MLB interleague still debated

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Interleague play in major league baseball is nearly 20 years old and the topic has its share of supporters and detractors. The landscape of professional sports has changed greatly over the years and many of the reasons that gave rise to interleague play no longer apply.

Many of those reasons concerned the ability of fans in National League cities to have the ability to see players from the American League, and vice versa.

Other reasons in support of interleague play revolved around the creation or maintaining of same city or regional rivalries in an attempt to increase fan interest. Having the Mets play the Yankees or the Giants play the Angels or the White Sox play the Cubs on an annual basis, if only for a pair of two or three game series, would help regenerate interest following the decline in popularity of baseball that followed the players strike, which resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

For the generation of baseball fans roughly 30 years of age and younger interleague play has been a staple of baseball for most of their lives and certainly from the age of 10.

Handicapping interleague games presents unique challenges, including the fact the two leagues operate under different rules due to the presence of the designated hitter in the AL and the absence of same in the NL.

Through Sunday a total of 94 interleague games have been played, slightly more than a third of the total number of such games scheduled this season.

In games played at AL venues the results have been exactly even with each league winning 23 games. But in games played at NL sites the AL has the edge, 27-21. But the biggest “take” from interleague play thus far has been the results in betting Totals.

Through the first 94 games the OVER holds a substantial 57-31-5 edge (64.8 percent). That, in and of itself, is impressive but even more impressive is OVERS have outnumbered UNDERS on both AL and NL venues.

Interleague games played at AL stadiums where both teams use the DH, have seen the OVER going 27-17-1. Interleague games hosted by NL teams where the pitchers bat for both sides have produced a 30-14-2 OVER edge.

Through Sunday 849 games overall have been played, with the OVER leading 423-379-46. That’s a net of 44 for the season to date with 26 occurring in interleague games, which have accounted for just 11% of all games played.

With over 150 interleague games still to be played these results might be worth monitoring with Totals still generally priced according to the pitching matchup, with only a handful of ballparks impacting the line. Scoring, overall, is up this season with an average of 8.76 total runs per game being scored in 2016 vs. an average of 8.32 runs per game through the same date last season.

In next week’s column the subject of betting the run line will be discussed.

Here’s a look at three series for this weekend.

Dodgers at Giants: These long time rivals meet for their third series of the season. The home team has won 5 of 7 games thus far with the Giants winning 3 of 4 at home in early April and the Dodgers taking 2 of 3 in Los Angeles a week later. 4 of the games stayed UNDER the Total and 3 went OVER as the teams averaged 9.1 runs per game. 3 of the 7 games were decided by 1 run.

San Francisco has gotten outstanding starting pitching with the trio of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija each having strong seasons. MadBum and Cueto have ERAs below 2.20 with Samardzija at 3.33. Each of the three is averaging at least 6.7 innings per start, has a WHIP below 1.15 and has a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.8-1. As strong as those stats are the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has been even better, averaging 7.7 innings per start with a 1.46 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and a strikeout to walk ratio of 18.2-1!

Last Saturday Kershaw was almost a 5-1 favorite over Atlanta, almost certainly the highest priced favorite in the last half century if not longer. However, the Giants with any of the aforementioned trio should be considered for play in a matchup against Kershaw, along with UNDER a Total of 6 or higher. The Dodgers’ most attractive situation would be as an underdog with rookie Kenta Maeda on the mound. The Japanese import has a 2.84 ERA and 1.07 WHIP through 11 starts. The best matchups for an OVER in this series would be when the Giants start other than their top three when facing other than Kershaw or Maeda. In such matchups the underdog is also worth playing.

Orioles at Blue Jays: These AL East rivals meet for their second series this season. In mid April, Baltimore took 2 of 3 home games from the Blue Jays with the most surprising aspect of that series being that all 3 games stayed UNDER the Total.

Toronto has gotten excellent starting pitching from surprising sources – Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez with both R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman struggling. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman have been mediocre at best for Baltimore with none of their other starters posting ERAs below 4.90. Toronto has been the biggest UNDER team this season, and by a decent margin. Of their 58 games, 35 have stayed UNDER, 20 OVER and 3 have pushed.

Baltimore’s offense has been slightly above average in run production whereas Toronto has been slightly below average. The plays to look for in this series would be the UNDER in matchups of Estrada, Happ or Sanchez against Gausman or Tillman, provided the Total is 8 or higher. Matchups not involving any of those 5 pitchers can be considered for OVER Totals of 8.5 or lower. Baltimore as underdogs not facing the three named Toronto starters can be considered for play. Toronto is playable as -125 favorites or less against Gausman or Tillman with Estrada, Happ or Sanchez.

Athletics at Reds: The lone interleague series of the weekend matches a pair of teams that once ruled baseball – but that was four decades ago in the early to mid-1970s. While both teams have had varying degrees of success in the years since neither entered 2016 with realistic prospects of contending for the Playoffs. Cincinnati has one of the weakest pitching staffs in recent memory, especially when it comes to their bullpen. That would point to the OVER as the preferred play at totals of 9 or less.

Because of the weak pitching on both teams any Underdog of +125 or more should be considered for play. Oakland’s Hill missed his start this past weekend due to a groin injury and has been targeted to return for this series. But even with his strong stats he can be played against if made the solid favorite as he’s averaging under 6 innings per start and could be a bit rusty. In fact, Hill leads the Oakland rotation with an average of 5.8 innings per start which suggests their bullpen will be active throughout this series.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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