NL might achieve parity with AL

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

It's a matter of statistical and historical record that the American League has been substantially superior to the National League in the 21st century.

The National League hasn't won an all-star game since 1996. The American League has won the World Series seven of the past 10 years and has swept the NL champs in three of the past four Fall Classics.

Since interleague play began in 1997 the AL has won 1,408 games and lost 1,336, which is not a huge discrepancy. But since 2004, the AL has won 499 games, losing just 348 for a .590 winning percentage.

KEY ROLES

Amid all this apparent dominance, though, there is a growing belief among baseball scholars (okay, they're just seamheads but they did go to school, at least some of them, anyway) that the National League suddenly has closed the gap.

They offer an array of evidence starting with some of the big numbers being put up by sluggers in the NL this year. Perhaps more significantly, they point to the many young players who are playing key roles for the various NL teams.

David Pinto, whose Baseball Musings blog is can't miss reading for anyone who cares about the game, has researched various lineups in both leagues and has determined that the majority of NL plate appearances are going to players in the 24-30 age group while the AL is dominated by players aged 31-34.

Jayson Stark, a baseball lifer whose mighty intellect graces the ESPN.com site, has determined that of MLB players under 30, the top eight in OPS (on-base plus slugging) are all National Leaguers. Only four of the top 25 were American Leaguers.

These are all intriguing bits of information.

Big offensive numbers? Well, that's fine except for the fact all those numbers were accumulated against NL pitching. Could it just be that NL pitching is, overall, lousy? Of course we know there are some outstanding pitchers populating NL staffs. But there are also some dogs. Perhaps enough dogs to make it look as if the NL has suddenly developed some robust offence. We'll reserve judgment on that one until there is enough of a sampling of interleague play to either confirm or refute the numbers.

Many young stars? There's no denying that the NL has an impressive number of young studs, both hitters and pitchers.

That certainly indicates that the NL may achieve parity with, or even begin to dominate the AL as time goes on. But it doesn't mean they've reversed things yet.

MONEY ALWAYS TALKS

The stat that sticks out to us is this one: Average payroll in the AL is about $97 million US. Average payroll in the NL is about $83 million. As long as the big money is being thrown around in the AL, primarily by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, that's where the talent will continue to gravitate.

In a free-market system, or as close to a free market as sports can get, money always will talk. American League teams have to spend to keep New York and Boston in their sights. National League teams still can compete without getting out of their financial comfort zone.

Fact of the matter is that until the NL wins an all-star game or two, starts dominating the World Series and starts beating the American League like a drum in interleague play, it's hard to give them any credit for being better.

Nothing that happened in the first 41 interleague games played last weekend can point to a reversal in the recent trends. The AL won 22 games, the NL won 19. With more than 200 interleague games left to play that's hardly a drop in the bucket.

One thing that did happen last weekend, isolated as it may be, could be a barometer for the AL's continued dominance. After a month and a half of futility in clutch situations, the Blue Jays went into Philadelphia batting about .210 with runners in scoring position against American League opponents.

In the three games against the Phillies, the feeble Jays feasted on NL pitching, hitting .409 (nine for 22) with runners in scoring position. Will wonders never cease?

But, of course, as we have witnessed the past two nights once again facing AL pitching, the Jays have gagged in the clutch with staggering futility.

We rest our case.


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