Intriguing Interleague slate set to satisfy

Intriguing Interleague slate set to satisfy

Welcome to the Interleague Café, so glad you could join us. Please take a seat here by the window for our very special Interleague Appetizer Weekend.

Of course, we have some of our regular entrees -- our New York-New York platter and our Bay Bridge buffet. Sorry, fresh out of Freeway and Windy City fare this weekend, not in season yet.

But please take a moment to consider a few different items, not all so traditional, but very much worth a taste. Hope you're hungry.

One dish sure to please is a little bit of Wrigleyville in the heart of Texas. We like to call the next one Motown Meets Hollywood, just scrumptious. And there's a whole sampler of other delights, from a couple of the sweetest and saltiest starts in baseball mixing it up to recent matchups of World Series champs from the last decade.

Mmmm, right? Yummy. Makes you want more, doesn't it?

And, sure enough, this is just a taste of Interleague Play before baseball's two leagues go back all National and American until they do that dance they've done since 1997 all over again for a longer stretch in June.

One twist to this Interleague starter is that not all the regional rivals are playing each other this time around. The Giants and A's are coming off tough two-game series losses before meeting in Oakland, and the Yankees and Mets are both a little anxious and ready for some wins heading into their matchup at Citi Field. But the White Sox are playing host to the Marlins while the Cubs are visiting the Rangers, and the Angels are traveling to St. Louis while the Dodgers are hosting the Tigers.

Other regional dishes continue to be served, however, such as Reds vs. Indians with the Reds being the early contender to turn the tables on past meetings a bit, the Red Sox visiting the defending National League champion Phillies, and yes even the NL West-leading Padres taking on the Mariners -- two teams that share a Spring Training facility and have met throughout Interleague Play.

There are a couple of matchups that make the league standings stand out, as early as it might be. The Rays take the best record in baseball to Houston, where the Astros are off to a 14-27 start. In a double surprise, the Nationals are at .500 in meeting the Orioles, who are closer to .300. And the overachieving Blue Jays are visiting a D-backs team that has yet to heat up in the desert.

WINS BY LEAGUE
The number of games won by each league since Interleague Play began in 1997.
YEAR AL NL
1997 97 117
1998 114 110
1999 116 135
2000 136 115
2001 132 120
2002 123 129
2003 115 137
2004 126 125
2005 136 116
2006 154 98
2007 137 115
2008 149 103
2009 137 114
TOTALS 1,673 1,534

Some of the series this weekend are randomly delicious, and come highly recommended. A few on the menu that rate mention:

• In Arlington, there's Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo returning to Texas, wearing Cubs uniforms. No doubt, there will be many others with Cubs ties descending upon Rangers Ballpark, like they do everywhere, but there will be only one first-place team on the field -- and that's the Rangers and the guy who's been spending a lot of time in that spot in the AL West for the last several years, Vladimir Guerrero.

Soriano has been back before since being there as the talented cog of the Alex Rodriguez trade, oh so long ago. This is a first for Byrd, and he's looking forward to it.

"It's going to be fun," said Byrd, who signed a three-year deal with the Cubs on New Year's Eve 2009 and ranks among the National League leaders in hits, extra-base hits and batting average. "I had three great years there."

• In Los Angeles, the surging Dodgers have tightened up the NL West race, and they'll be testing that momentum against Motown's club. The Tigers boast two of the hottest rookies in baseball in outfielders Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch, and they enter the series having grabbed a share of first place in the AL Central with the Twins with a two-game sweep up the coast in Oakland.

Boesch, who grew up in Santa Monica, can't wait for his Hollywood debut under the lights of the ballpark of his youth.

"The moment I decided I wanted to be a big leaguer," said Boesch, who leads AL rookies in average and RBIs, "I was sitting in the stands in Dodger Stadium. It's kind of come full circle that way."

• In St. Louis, one defending division champ is fighting for the lead while another is trying to get its record on the bright side of .500. That's the Cardinals, holding on to a slim lead over the Reds in the NL Central, hosting the Angels, at least a little bit surprisingly sitting at three games under .500 and 4-1/2 games out of first place in the NL West.

The opener of that series brings Joel Pineiro -- a 15-game winner for the Cardinals a year ago -- back to the mound at Busch Stadium, meeting fellow veteran right-hander Brad Penny, who essentially replaced Pineiro in the St. Louis rotation.

"It's going to be exciting," said Pineiro, who is 3-4 with a 3.71 ERA and is coming off a shutout of the A's. "I had some good relationships and times there, but I'm with the Angels now."

That's not all that's on the menu this weekend. There's also Rockies-Royals, Brewers-Twins, something for every palate.

Bon appetit!

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.