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American League's Interleague Dominance Coming To An End

August 28, 2018
The American League has dominated interleague play for so long it's almost become part of baseball's annual rite of summer. But in case you haven't been paying attention, that run of dominance will almost certainly end this year.

This is the 22nd year the American and National Leagues have played regular season games, reluctantly in some cases. It was easier to claim superiority if the only true test was the All-Star Game, which ceased being truly competitive about the time Ted Williams and Stan Musial retired. 

From 1963-1982, the American League lost 19 of 20 mid-summer mismatches, generously described as "classics." It got so bad at one point that former American League president Lee MacPhail ordered pitchers not be used in preceding Sunday games if they had been selected to the All-Star team.

It didn't work, and it took a long while for the American League to even hint at parity, let alone claim even the slightest degree of superiority -- most of which came from World Series success generated by the New York Yankees.

In cases like this, the wonderful, sometimes confusing and often wacky world of sports is like waves from the ocean -- the tide comes in and the tide goes out. That's exactly what happened after the first seven years of interleague play, when the National League won the upper hand during four seasons and had an overall record of 853-833.

Then it was the American League's turn. The American League has won the head-to-head battle for the last 14 years, a stretch that has also included wins in six straight All-Star Games (and 18 of the last 22).

But existing evidence suggests the American League's long run of success in interleague play is about to end. As of Aug. 27, with 40 games remaining, the National League is 14 games above .500 (137-123) against American League opponents. The .527 winning percentage is hardly dominant, and the fact that the Boston Red Sox (9-3) -- with the best record in baseball -- still have eight interleague games left to play gives the American League a glimmer of hope of a late comeback.

What remains to be seen is if this is the development of a new trend or merely a scheduling quirk. This year's matchups have featured the East, Central and West divisions against their respective counterparts. The AL Central, by default, ranks as the weakest division in baseball, and it shows up in the results from interleague play with the NL Central holding a commanding 53-33 advantage.

The American League would need to go 27-13 the rest of the way to salvage a split for the season -- and that might be too much of a deficit for even the Red Sox to make up.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com