Big increase in Interleague games unlikely in '13

Big increase in Interleague games unlikely in '13

Big increase in Interleague games unlikely in '13
MILWAUKEE -- Season-long Interleague Play, set to begin in 2013 as a result of the Houston Astros' move to the American League, won't result in the sort of dramatic increase in AL vs. National League games that some have predicted, said the Major League Baseball official in charge of the schedule.

MLB senior vice president Katy Feeney said teams are likely to play "about the same number" of Interleague games under the new alignment. In 2011, AL teams played 18 apiece and NL teams played 15-18.

"All of that is still to be finalized, but there's not right now, in general, a feel from the players' side or the management side to increase the number of Interleague games," Feeney said. "It will probably be close to the number we currently play."

Those games will simply be spread out over the entire regular season, instead of focused into periods in May, June and July, as they have been since Interleague Play debuted in 1997.

That's by necessity. Under the new alignment, with the Astros moving from the NL Central to the AL West for the 2013 season, each league will be comprised of 15 teams, with three divisions of five teams apiece. Supporters of the shift say it increases fairness and creates a natural intradivision rivalry between the Rangers and Astros in Texas. But as a result of an odd number of teams in each league, on a day that all 30 clubs are active, MLB would have to schedule at least one Interleague game.

When MLB Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig announced the Astros' move following Owners Meetings in Milwaukee on Nov. 17, various proposals had been advanced to make the pieces fit, some of them predicting as many as 30 -- or even 40 -- Interleague games per club. That led to questions about a fundamental shift in the way general managers construct their teams, with arguably a lesser impact of the designated hitter in the AL -- would free-agent DH David Ortiz, for example, carry quite the same clout if an AL team played twice as many games without a DH? Conversely, would NL GMs put a higher value on bench players who could hit?

Under one concrete proposal, teams would play 18 games against each of the other four teams in their division (for a total of 72 games), plus 60 games against teams from their league's other two divisions and 30 Interleague games.

"Thirty is a number that works," Feeney said, "but what people forget to look at when they're throwing out schedules is that it's not just the number of games, it's the number of series you play. Unless you extend the season, and there's also not much desire to extend the season ... you suddenly have more of what we call 'squeeze weeks' if you go to 30 [Interleague games]."

Squeeze weeks are the ones in which teams play three series in a single week -- usually two two-game series and one three- or four-game series. They are unpopular with players and coaches because of the travel and preparation challenges they present.

Scheduling models with 30 Interleague games for each team, Feeney said, would necessitate more squeeze weeks.

MLB officials are currently working on different scenarios. In recent seasons, the schedule for all 30 teams has been released en masse in September, but Feeney said the new structure will have to be settled well before then.

"Whether we release it publicly before that, I don't know," she said.

Baseball has a head start on this challenge because it was studied before the 1998 season, when the Rays and D-backs were born as expansion franchises and the Brewers moved to the NL. In the months before that realignment, MLB studied placing 15 teams in each league.

The process of setting the schedule has become much more computerized since the late 1990s, Feeney said, but still involves a degree of handwork to fix travel issues and accommodate certain club requests. She works with two separate committees on the project.

"Every schedule is a challenge," Feeney said. "You've got 30 clubs, no matter how you divide [the leagues], and there are often conflicting requests, needs, desires. That's not going to change, necessarily, with [a] 15-15 [split]. It's just a matter of deciding what works best, and we're in the process of determining that."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.