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Ferguson: Jays try overcoming old nemesis - interleague play

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Scott Ferguson
5/2/2014 12:53:19 PM
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Interleague play has been a boon for Major League Baseball. For the Blue Jays, not so much.

This weekend, battling to get back over the .500 mark, John Gibbons and company kick off a stretch of seven straight games against the National League. They start with three at Pittsburgh against the struggling Pirates and then follow up that series with two at Philadelphia before returning home the next night to kick off a two-game set at Rogers Centre with the Phillies.
 
After salvaging the final game of their three-game set at Kansas City on Thursday night with a 7-3 victory, the Jays sit at 13-15 but thanks largely to the injuries and flaws of the other teams in the AL East, they are still just two-and-a-half games back of the first place Yankees. Still, if the Blue Jays are going to keep it that close, they've got to start beating the National League clubs with more regularity.

Since interleague play came into being in 1997, the Blue Jays have compiled a record of 143-160. The first 16 years, the games were compressed into a small portion of the schedule when school was out in June and early July for the most part. Last season, with Houston moving to the American League, there were 15 teams in each league so there pretty well had to be at least one interleague game each and every day of the season.

Last season, the first year under the new format, the Jays actually had a winning record against the National League clubs at 11-9. But overall, the Jays' interleague record pales to those of the Yankees and Red Sox. The Yanks are 179-123 over the 17 years heading into this season. Boston is right behind them at 175-128.

It isn't just the big boys who have success in interleague play, though. The Angels, who haven't won a World Series since 2002, are 174-130 against the senior circuit over that span. The White Sox are 171-132 and even the Minnesota Twins are 165-137.

If you average it out over 17 seasons, the Blue Jays have cost themselves about two games per season versus the Yanks and Red Sox in the East by struggling in interleague play.

The American League has dominated this annual showdown between the two leagues, having the better record in 13 of the 17 seasons. Oddly enough, though, in the beginning the National League was up four winning seasons to three over the first seven interleague plays. The American League has dominated ever since. Nine American League teams are above .500 in the crossover play to just five National League clubs.

The top National League club in interleague play is Atlanta at 148-131, followed by St. Louis at 135-120. Miami has done surprisingly well at 149-141. Luckily for the Blue Jays, the two teams they are playing against over the next seven days haven't traditionally done well against the American League. Pittsburgh is the worst at 106-143 and the Phillies are 127-158.

The Pirates have really had their troubles this season. After making the playoffs last season for the first time since 1992, the Bucs are 10-18 this time around. They lost one of their top pitchers in A.J Burnett in the offseason as a free agent to the Phillies, while lefty Wandy Rodriguez is recouping from a knee injury. But the Pirates' real problem has been cashing in runners. They stranded 28 men in dropping a day/night doubleheader to Baltimore Thursday. On top of that, their number one catcher, Russell Martin of Montreal, is on the disabled list. The Pirates are in a virtual tie for last in the NL Central with the Cubs.

The Phillies are only marginally better. They are 13-13, tied with Miami for last in the AL East. Yes the Phillies were stung by the retirement of Roy Halladay in the offseason but like the Pirates, their problem is run production. If you can believe it, their outfielders have only 15 extra base hits and the season is a month old. These are teams the Blue Jays must beat. Anything less than five out of seven will be a failure.

One thing to remember about the Phillies is that they won a World Series in 2008; just six years ago. Yet this year, they lost 6,000 season ticket holders and their average attendance drop from a year ago, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is 9,129 per game. This, for a team that has known recent success and has a pretty new and fan-friendly ballpark. The inclement weather of April likely plays a major part in the Phillies' drop-off, but it just shows fans won't put up with mediocrity forever. I was more than a bit surprised that the team with the second biggest drop-off is Detroit at 5,493 per game. This, for a Tigers team that seems to win the AL Central nearly every year and has been to the World Series, albeit, hasn't won twice in the last eight seasons.

You might have missed it but the Dodgers franchise reached a milestone on Wednesday, winning its 10,000th game. The only others to reach that magic figure are the Giants, the Cubs and the Braves. And of those four, the Cubs are the only teams to have played their entire existence in one city.

The Dodgers' Zack Greinke is putting up some obscure but impressive stats, nonetheless. He's off to a 5-0 start this season and has made 18 straight starts where he has pitched five innings or more and given up two or fewer runs. That hasn't happened in 100 years -- since 1914. The last time Greinke started a season 6-0, he won the Cy Young Award in 2009 while in the American League.

Adam Lind isn't close to returning to the active roster yet. He's still rehabbing his back. But when he is healthy again, the Blue Jays could face an interesting dilemma if Juan Francisco keeps hitting the way he is. There is no way the Jays can carry Edwin Encarnacion, Lind and Francisco on the same roster. Francisco has one edge over Lind in the versatility department in that he can also play 3rd base in a pinch. Lind's not in any kind of jeopardy, but this situation will be interesting to watch.

Encarnacion and Francisco (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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