Interleague play nothing more than a 'novelty'

White Sox manager Robin Ventura argues with home plate umpire Mark Wegner during a game against the...

White Sox manager Robin Ventura argues with home plate umpire Mark Wegner during a game against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., May 30, 2012. (STEVE NESIUS/Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:03 PM ET

TORONTO - Don’t know about you, but this is the point in the year when my interest in Major League Baseball goes on sabbatical.

And no, it has nothing to do with what the Blue Jays did or didn’t do.

This is an MLB-wide thing and it’s the scourge of baseball. It’s called interleague play and it’s past its prime.

Back in 1997 when it was introduced, interleague baseball was a novelty and I’ll admit even I was interested.

I got over that in about three seasons.

But here we are, now in the 16th year of this “novelty” and the novelty has definitely worn off.

What has replaced it is a deep-seeded feel that this whole exercise only undermines the goal of a regular season which is supposed to be about determining which teams are worthy of post-season play.

All interleague play does in that regard is gum up the works.

First, consider the obvious inequalities it brings with it. Even with a rotating schedule that sees a team move from playing the bulk of its games against one division one year to another the next, cannot guarantee each team in the American League is getting the same strength of schedule in its interleague portion as another team in its own league.

Then there are the rival games. While it’s never a bad thing to develop a rivalry with a particular team, any good that comes out of that from interleague rivalries immediately is undone by the added disparity it brings to the scheduling.

For those teams that have a natural rival — the Jays are one of eight teams that doesn’t, although they now have faced the Philadelphia Phillies in a three-game series every year since 2006 — it’s a home-and-home set, with three games in each park, which all sounds great until you consider the St. Louis Cardinals get the sad-sack Kansas City Royals on their schedule every year for six games while a division rival such as Houston (at least for one more year) gets to see the high-powered offence of the Texas Rangers.

There’s no equality there.

Now consider the different league rules. Where does it make sense to take a team that has been built to play with a DH all year and ask it to play without one. Or, ask a pitcher whose hitting days ended in college or earlier, to suddenly pick up a bat. The National League arrives at an American League park and it adds a bat off the bench to the every day lineup as the DH.

What it does is take the bulk of the month of June on the MLB calendar and cheapens it.

Houston will make the jump to the American League West next season, which at least evens out the two leagues (both will now have 15 teams) allowing the interleague games to be played throughout the year rather than just that one week in May and three in June.

That will make it different, but it won’t make it any better.

What’s wrong with waiting until the World Series to see how one league matches up with another?

SOUTHSIDE HAS A STRUT

The White Sox are relevant again, only this time that relevance comes without the sideshow from the manager’s office.

A few months into the job as White Sox manager Robin Ventura is already enjoying some of the success his predecessor did, but is far more concerned about putting the spotlight on his players than on himself.

Ozzie Guillen, for all his success in Chicago, seemed to like the attention a little too much.

Ventura, who has the White Sox off to a 32-25 start, can’t deflect it quickly enough.

“I don’t want to go there,” Ventura explained to CSNChicago.com recently when it was suggested he was responsible for the turnaround. “It’s everyone, everyday coming with the same attitude. These guys are the ones who play. You can do the same things I’m doing every day, but if you have guys who don’t have the ability and aren’t capable of doing it, it doesn’t matter. It’s really about how these guys are doing and coming every day to compete. That’s the thing I’m happiest about.”

Whether it’s his doing or not, the White Sox seem to be getting the most out of their vets.

Adam Dunn was miserable in 2011. In ’12, he has 18 homers and 39 RBIs (we won’t mention the .215 batting average).

Paul Konerko has hit .300 or better just four times in his 13 years. So far this season he is hitting at a .371 clip to lead the majors.

Jake Peavy hasn’t had a double-digit win season since 2008. He has six in his first 12 starts this season already.

How much of this is Ventura and how much of it is health, only the players themselves know for sure. But there’s no denying the White Sox are getting more out of the same players this year than they have in the past three.

EXTRA INNINGS

A situation worth watching is Arizona ownership and its injured starting shortstop Stephen Drew. Drew played his first game in 11 months earlier this week for the team’s triple-A team in Reno. He mangled his right ankle and the surrounding ligaments in a gruesome slide last June. The game came just a couple of days after team owner Ken Kendrick went on a local radio show and questioned whether Drew was interested in earning his salary. “I’m going to be real direct about Stephen,” Kendrick told XTRA Radio in Phoenix. “I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly. I, for one, am disappointed. I’m going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than on going out and supporting the team that’s paying his salary.’’

PERFECT NO MORE

Perfection in baseball is rare.

And over an entire season, it is unattainable.

But for a long while there, Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman got to experience it.

Coming in to Thursday’s night’s game with the suddenly competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, Chapman had been perfect. Through 29 innings over 24 appearances, he had yet to allowed an earned run. That 0.00 ERA was a thing of beauty.

But everyone knew it wasn’t sustainable. Even with a 100-mph, fastball, someone, at some point was going to score on Chapman.

The only surprise was the guy who finally broke the streak.

Michael McKenry, the Pirates’ reserve catcher had all of 54 at-bats and just 10 hits coming into the game. Then he went hitless in his first two trips to the plate.

In the 10th inning, with his Pirates deadlocked 4-4 with the Reds, McKenry turned on a 99-mph fastball and drove it into right field for a run-scoring double, cashing in Clint Barmes from second.

Barmes was aboard thanks to a double, just the eighth hit off Chapman all year. McKenry, of course, had the ninth.

“I knew something crazy was going to happen in this game,” Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips told reporters after the game. “It wasn’t a save situation. He’s human. You knew he was going to get hit someday.”

It just hurt a little more because it was a guy hitting .193 that broke the streak.

PICK DOESN’T EVEN PLAY BASEBALL

Iit’s certainly not as bad as drafting a guy who is no longer among the living, but the San Diego Padres are still taking a little heat for this one.

In the 40th round, with the 1,215th pick in baseball’s amateur draft this past week, the Padres selected Terrance Owens, the starting quarterback of the Toledo Rockets.

By itself, that’s not so strange. From Bo Jackson to Drew Henson, there have been enough players to play pro at both football and baseball’s highest level that it wouldn’t be a stretch.

The difference with Owens is he doesn’t even play baseball at Toledo. He did play in high school, but quit after his freshman year. In fact, he gave up on baseball before he did basketball, quitting that sport to focus full time on football in his junior year.

The Padres believe in his arm strength and the fact that he is left-handed were enough to take him in the draft.

Who knows, they might be right? Owens, though, can’t see it happening at this point in his life.

“I was just surprised,” Owens told the Toledo Blade when asked for his reaction. “Kind of confused, really.”

The Padres have until Aug. 15 to sign Owens or they will lose his rights.

It doesn’t sound like they’ll have much of a chance.

“I’ll be here,” Owens told the Blade. “Next year too.”

CLAY IS COMING TO GRIPS

Until just recently, the only headlines Clay Buchholz was making were for either his soaring ERA or the fact he decided to go golfing on an off-day with sore-backed fellow starter Josh Beckett.

These days, though, all the attention is on his change-up.

That one pitch has come back to Buchholz and it’s making all the difference in the world.

With his ERA seemingly on its way to double digits, Buchholz has turned things around. In his past three starts, he has allowed just four earned runs in 24 innings, including a complete-game shutout Thursday against a Baltimore club that had already beaten him up twice this year.

“My grip was a little off. I was able to free that up a little bit,’’ Buchholz told reporters after the win on Thursday. “It’s been a pitch that we tried to work on for a long time and I noticed it wasn’t the same grip I had in past years and it’s coming back.’’

Thanks to a robust offence in April by the Bosox, Buchholz somehow vultured three wins in the month despite an ERA that hovered around nine. It wasn’t until his seventh start of the year, second in the month of May that Buchholz finally kept a team under five earned runs while he was on the mound.

That all seems like a long time ago now.

FRANCIS, ROCKIES MADE FOR EACH OTHER

Earlier this week, North Delta, B.C.’s Jeff Francis asked for and received his release from the Cincinnati Reds’ triple-A affiliate in Louisville.

The Denver Post is quoting sources saying Francis, who has not pitched in the majors since 2011 with Kansas City, will start for the Colorado Rockies in Saturday’s game against Anaheim.

Francis came into the majors with the Rockies who selected him ninth overall in 2002, the same year Adam Loewen, another B.C. boy went fourth overall to Baltimore.

Francis had a solid start to his major league career but, by 2008, he was having shoulder problems and after trying to pitch through them, underwent surgery in the off-season and missed the entire ’09 season.

His career has gone from Colorado to Kansas City and Louisville, but he’s now back in Denver where he has maintained an off-season home.

The timing is good for both Francis who wanted back in the majors and the Rockies who have seen two starters go down with injury and recently released veteran Jamie Moyer.


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