AL gets the edge again as Interleague has its standouts
Mauer, Bautista, Braun, Votto -- and Plouffe -- among the offensive leaders
How will we remember Interleague Play 2012? Well, it was the Sweet 16 of one of baseball's grandest experiments, and although we saw something that we seemingly see every year, we saw a lot we probably never thought we'd see.
The usual came in the form of the American League getting the best of the National League -- yet again.
The AL went 142-110 in the 252 Interleague games that were played in stints from May 18-20 and June 8-24, a year after the AL went 131-121 and two years after the AL went 134-118.
The AL hasn't lost the season series since 2003, extending its all-time Interleague advantage to 2,081-1,883 (.525).
Perhaps the AL's run will change next season, when Interleague Place becomes an everyday occurrence with Astros moving to the AL.
Fans around the country certainly enjoyed what has become an annual tradition around baseball. This year's Interleague slate drew 8,742,577 fans, good for the third-highest total in the 16-year history of Interleague Play. The average attendance for Interleague games (34,693) was 15.8 percent higher than the average intraleague game (29,957) so far this season.
When it came to individual numbers, a bunch of usual suspects led the way.
- 142 wins
- 110 wins
NL bats were paced by last year's league MVP, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, who torched AL pitching with a .406 average, a co-league-leading six homers and an NL-Interleague-high 19 RBIs. Also not surprising was the 2010 NL MVP, Joey Votto of the Reds, sharing the homer crown with Braun at six and batting .308 while drawing 13 walks in Interleague Play for a .455 on-base percentage against the AL. The crazy thing is that this amounted to a slump of sorts: Votto's season OBP is .484.
Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals continued his stellar season, leading the NL in Interleague average at .421 and adding four homers and 12 RBIs.
On the pitching side, in a shocker of all shockers (not really), reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander paced all AL starters, going 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA Interleague Play. It wasn't particularly surprising that Washington phenom Stephen Strasburg would be among the best in his circuit in Interleague Play. He went 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 39 strikeouts and six walks in 24 innings.
But there were plenty of eye-opening performances from players you might not have thought about before Interleague Play began.
Minnesota shortstop Trevor Plouffe, for example, co-led the Majors with nine homers while also driving in 15 and batting .343. Red Sox rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks hit .370 with four homers and 13 RBIs against the NL, then watched as his team traded veteran Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox to clear room for him to play every day at the hot corner.
The other guy who went 4-0 in the NL was none other than A.J. Burnett, now of the Pirates, and Burnett added a 2.08 ERA. In the AL, Texas left-hander Matt Harrison went 3-0 with a 0.33 Interleague ERA before departing Sunday's victory after five innings because of back problems.
Baltimore's Jason Hammel matched Harrison's Interleague record and pitched to a 2.54 ERA, which helped keep the Orioles in the thick of the AL East hunt.
Meanwhile, the best Interleague closers were Rafael Soriano of the Yankees in the AL (7-for-8 in saves, 1.17 ERA) and Tyler Clippard of the Nationals (7-for-7, zero earned runs allowed in 9 2/3 innings and 14 strikeouts).
In the team standings, the Rangers were the kings of Interleague, going 14-4 to edge out the Yankees, who went 13-5. The Rangers had a balanced attack, leading the AL in Interleague batting at .287 and also posting the lowest Interleague ERA in baseball at 2.76.
Pitching was the key to the rest of the AL's success. The Yankees might have led all of Interleague Play with 33 home runs, but they won 13 games in large part because they posted a 2.87 team ERA in those games. Likewise, the Angels (2.86) went 12-6 and the Tigers (2.79) went 11-7.
In the NL, the Rockies were the batting champs at .286, the Astros and Pirates tied for the lead with 22 homers apiece and the resurgent D-backs pulled above .500 in part because they led the NL in Interleague runs and RBIs with 79.
But pitching again told the tale.
The only two teams in the NL that finished Interleague Play over .500 were the Nationals and Pirates, and both were 10-8. The Nationals led the NL in Interleague team ERA at 2.86. The Dodgers were next at 3.18.
And don't think there was a lack of crazy accomplishments and moments, either.
Who could have guessed, for example, that Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey would go from good to historically ridiculous?
Dickey went 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in Interleague Play this year, but the two wins were consecutive one-hitters (at Tampa Bay and home against Baltimore), and he struck out 12 and 13 batters in those games, respectively. All five of the earned runs he allowed in three Interleague starts came Sunday in a no-decision against the Yankees.
Elsewhere, we witnessed controversy in the form of Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta being ejected from a game against the Nationals for having pine tar on his glove, and we witnessed the ensuing battle of words between Rays manager Joe Maddon and Washington skipper Davey Johnson.
A more feel-good story took place June 8 in Seattle, when six Mariners pitchers combined to toss Interleague Play's only no-hitter of the year, a 1-0 victory over the Dodgers authored by starter Kevin Millwood and relievers Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen.