Interleague games: way too many!?
In addition to the big rule changes discussed last week, MLB also made a historic alteration in the basic scheduling framework this year. (I briefly mentioned that on March 24.) As indicated on the Baseball Chronology / annual page, interleague games were introduced in 1997. I opined on this topic way back on May 23, 2005, and on November 19, 2011, when it was announced that the Houston Astros would move to the American League. To probe into this question further, broke down the Washington Nationals' 2023 schedule by division and league, and I assume that the other 29 teams are very similar in terms of total numbers. In brief, teams are playing about 26 fewer games with divisional rivals this year, while playing about that many additional games with teams from the other league. Until this year, teams basically played two short series (four games total) with their regional or intracity rivals, and one series (three or four games) with all the teams from one of the three divisions in the other league, those divisions rotating from year to year. It all amounts to a major dilution of league and division identity.
In one of the peculiarities of their schedule this year, the Washington Nationals interleague games: way too many Last year the Nationals played 20 interleague games: 16 against AL West teams and four against their regional rivals (?) in Baltimore. This year, in contrast, the Nats are playing a total of 46 games against American League teams: 3 each against all AL teams except Baltimore, with whom they play four games once again. Those 26 additional AL games are mostly being offset by playing fewer games against NL East Division. Last year the Nationals played 76 games against their divisional rivals, whereas this year it's only 52. It is very strange that the Nats thus far have only played one series each with the Braves and the Mets, and none at all with either the Phillies or the Marlins! In my mind, this severely undermines the whole idea of divisions being constituted as clusters of teams that compete most strenuously with each other.
|Opponent||At home games
|Away games||Total games|
|NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST||26||26||52|
|Atlanta Braves (NL-E)||7||6||13|
|New York Mets (NL-E)||6||7||13|
|Miami Marlins (NL-E)||7||6||13|
|Philadelphia Phillies (NL-E)||6||7||13|
|NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL||17||16||33|
|Pittsburgh Pirates (NL-C)||3||4||7|
|Chicago Cubs (NL-C)||4||3||7|
|St. Louis Cardinals (NL-C)||3||3||6|
|Cincinnati Reds (NL-C)||4||3||7|
|Milwaukee Brewers (NL-C)||3||3||6|
|NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST||15||16||31|
|Colorado Rockies (NL-W)||3||4||7|
|San Diego Padres (NL-W)||3||3||6|
|Los Angeles Dodgers (NL-W)||3||3||6|
|Arizona Diamondbacks (NL-W)||3||3||6|
|San Francisco Giants (NL-W)||3||3||6|
|AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST||8||8||16|
|Baltimore Orioles (AL-E)||2||2||4|
|Boston Red Sox (AL-E)||3||0||3|
|New York Yankees (AL-E)||0||3||3|
|Toronto Blue Jays (AL-E)||0||3||3|
|Tampa Bay Rays (AL-E)||3||0||3|
|AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL||9||6||15|
|Chicago White Sox (AL-C)||3||0||3|
|Cleveland Guardians (AL-C)||3||0||3|
|Minnesota Twins (AL-C)||0||3||3|
|Kansas City Royals (AL-C)||0||3||3|
|Detroit Tigers (AL-C)||3||0||3|
|AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST||6||9||15|
|Los Angeles Angels (AL-W)||0||3||3|
|Houston Astros (AL-W)||0||3||3|
|Seattle Mariners (AL-W)||0||3||3|
|Texas Rangers (AL-W)||3||0||3|
|Oakland Athletics (AL-W)||3||0||3|
Nationals continue to improve
After losing the first game of the series against the Chicago Cubs on May Day, the Washington Nationals came back and beat the Cubs in the next three games to win their third series of the last four they had played. On Tuesday, young shortstop C.J. Abrams went 3 for 3, batting in the go-ahead run in the 7th inning. Alex Call then doubled in two insurance runs, as the Nats won, 4-1. On Wednesday Jake Irvin was called up from the minors to pitch in his first MLB game, replacing Chad Kuhl, who went on the injured list. Irvin more than surpassed expectations, giving up just one run in 4 1/3 innings. In the 7th inning Lane Thomas tripled, and C.J. Abrams immediately batted him in, and that's how the Nationals edged the Cubs, 2-1. On Thursday (an afternoon game), Lane Thomas hit a 3-run homer in the 2nd inning, while Patrick Corbin pitched his best game in years, giving up just 3 hits over 7-plus innings. Two runs were charged to him when his replacement, Hunter Harvey, blew the save opportunity. It was 3-3 in the bottom of the 9th inning when leadoff batter Alex Call swung at the first pitch and planted that ball just inside the left field foul pole for the Nats' first walk-off home run of the year! That was a real "feel-good" moment for the Nats, redeeming the superlative pitching effort of Patrick Corbin, so of course it has been recorded on the Washington Nationals BIG moments page.
Then the Nats took a long jet flight to Phoenix, Arizona, without a day of rest. The Diamondbacks won the first game (on Friday) 3-1, as the 1st-inning solo home run by Luis Garcia failed to spark the other players. On Saturday, the Nationals fell behind 6-2 after the home team scored 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning, and there wasn't much to hope for. In the top of the 9th Keibert Ruiz hit a leadoff homer, but the next two batters were out. Then came a walk, a single, and a 2-run single by Ildemaro Vargas to bring the Nats to within one run. The next batter was Lane Thomas who homered to give the Nats a 7-6 lead. Amazing!!! But on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th inning, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a home run into the first row of seats in left-center field. The Nats challenged on the grounds of fan interference, but were denied. Closing pitcher Kyle Finnegan thereby blew the save, but even worse than that, he then loaded the bases on a single and two walks, and then walked in the winning run. After the Nats' 5-run rally in the top of the 9th, that 8-7 loss (which signified a series loss) was a real kick in the gut.
So how would the Nationals respond to such adversity? Today's game (Sunday) was similar to the previous two, a close back-and-forth affair until the 5th inning. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. homered (for a second time) in the bottom of the 5th, giving the D-Backs a 7-3 lead. The Nats narrowed the gap in the 7th and 8th innings, and in the top of the 9th, Joey Meneses knocked a 3-run homer to left field to give the Nats the lead. It was eerily similar to the situation the day before, and everyone wondered if the Nats would hold on. Not surprisingly, Manager Dave Martinez sent Hunter Harvey to the mound, rather than the tired (and probably shaken up) Kyle Finnegan. Harvey walked one batter, but the D-Backs failed to score, and Nats indeed held on to win, 9-8. WHEW!!!
Those last two games have been recorded on the afore-mentioned Washington Nationals BIG moments page, in the section for 9th-inning lead changes. The Sunday game was the first "happy ending" in that section since Sept. 22, 2020.
So, the Nationals are now 14-20 for the season, above the .400 "threshold of respectability" and only a game and a half behind the NL East 4th-place Philadelphia Phillies. Bryce Harper recently was activitated ahead of schedule, after getting Tommy John surgery in the off-season. He still can't throw, however, so for the next several weeks at least, he will be serving as the designated hitter. the Mets and Marlins have fallen under .500 in recent days, while the division-leading Braves beat the Baltimore Orioles in two out of three games in a huge matchup over the weekend. World Series preview? The Tampa Bay Rays are still far above everybody else (28-7, .800) in the major leagues, but as we all know, high regular-season percentages do not always translate into postseason success. The Yankees are actually in last place, reflecting the fact that Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Josh Donaldson have spent a good part of this season on the injured list. Judge's injury was more recent and less severe, and he should be back soon.
Major League Baseball in Mexico!
One week ago today, the San Diego Padres played two games against the San Francisco Giants in the semi-new (2019) home of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Red Devils), Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú. The Padres won both games, by scores of 16-11 and 6-4. Reflecting the high elevation (over 7,000 feet) there were, respectively, 11 and 4 home runs hit in those two games. Among those who homered were former Nationals Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz.
This, of course, means that I will have to create a diagram of Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú, probably after I finally get around to the other "promotional" (non-emergency neutral) stadiums on my to-do list. Distance markers indicate dimensions of 332 feet to each foul pole, and 410 feet to center field -- significantly less than in hitter-friendly Coors Field, which is 2,000 feet lower. In the mean time, I have updated the Foro Sol and Anomalous stadiums pages with the new information. I made some formatting changes on the latter page to make it easier to read.