(Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Red Sox slides safely into home as catcher Koyie Hill of the Cubs awaits the throw. The Red Sox beat the Cubs 15-5 in the interleague game at Fenway Park. Photo by Associated Press).
You can’t make snap judgments based on one night, but it will be interesting to see if the National League turns in a better showing in interleague play this season. So far, so good: the NL went 9-5 vs. the American League on Friday, the first night of interleague play in 2011.
The NL has a lot of catching up to do. They haven’t come out head of the American League in head-to-head interleague competiton since 2003, when they had a 137-115 record (.544) against the AL. Here’s how it’s gone since, listed by overall winner:
2004: AL 126-125 (..502)
2005: AL 136-116 (.540)
2006: AL 154-98 (.611)
2007: AL 137-115 (.543)
2008: AL 149-103 (.591)
2009: AL 137-114 (.545)
2010: AL 134-118 (.531)
That’s coupled, of course, with the American League winning 12 consecutive All-Star games from 1997 through 2009 (excluding the tie in 2002). But last July in Anaheim, the National League pulled out a 3-1 victory in the All-Star Game in Anaheim, and that was followed by the Giants winning the World Series over the Rangers in five games. The NL has won three of the past five World Series.
Are we experiencing a shift in the balance of power? There’s no doubt the National League has picked up some significant players in recent years, particularly pitchers — Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Zach Greinke, for starters. Some of the most exciting young players are National Leaguers, such as Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton, Stephen Strasburg , Buster Posey, and, on his way soon, Bryce Harper. That’s not to say the American League doesn’t have great young talent as well, but the recent edge seems to go the NL direction.
Baseball Prospectus had an interesting theory for the American League dominance for the past decade. They attribute it to the spending war between the Yankees and Red Sox, which demands that other teams in the league keep up as best they can. Even in other divisions, they have to pay heed to the Red Sox and Yankees because the one that doesn’t win the division typically is lead contender for the wild card.
Baseball Prospectus calculated the average American League payroll during the last two years as $102.8 million, compared to $91.1 million in the National League. And that spending gap permeates to the draft, as well. According to research by Baseball Prospectus’s Matt Swartz, “the AL East spends nearly $1 million more per first-round pick despite picking, on average, around the 21st slot in the first round. As a result, the AL Central spends way more than the NL teams, too. The AL West teams still only have three other teams to compete with for a playoff spot, so they are better able to achieve cooperation than the AL Central it seems, but this draft spending in the AL East and AL Central is the source of the discrepancy.”
As Seattle fans know all too painfully, spending doesn’t always translate into winning. But it’s a good place to start. With 238 interleague games to play, it’s way too early to conclude that the National League has surpassed the American League. But it bears watching.