In this season’s first weekend of interleague play, each league won 21 games. That’s more than half-full news for the National League, which has lost the overall competition to the American League for the past seven years.
With the Giants, Phillies and Cardinals leading their divisions, the NL has three teams that can compete with anyone in terms of money, pitching (even with St. Louis’s Adam Wainwright missing the whole season) and pedigree. Those teams each have a World Series title in the past five years, and they are in the hunt again. This past weekend, all three were impressive in winning interleague series.
The reigning World Series champion Giants scored only 10 runs in their series against Bay Area rival Oakland, but the A’s managed just five runs and were swept. Philadelphia took two of three from the 2010 AL-pennant winning Rangers, with Cliff Lee beating his former team Saturday night. St. Louis, meanwhile won two of three from the Royals.
Each league won seven series and had two sweeps. In the NL, the Diamondbacks (winners of six in a row) kept up with the Giants by taking all three from the Twins, who are 14 1/2 games behind the Indians. Cleveland swept Cincinnati, with Ezequiel Carrera and Travis Buck as the unlikely stars in the first two games. The Mariners gave the AL its other sweep as Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez dumped the Padres.
The Yankees, who took two of three from the Mets, are in their own league in terms of spending, but the NL is keeping up in salaries as well. Philadelphia had baseball’s second-highest payroll on opening day, with the Cubs sixth, Mets seventh, Giants eighth and Cardinals 11th.
Last summer, the NL won the All-Star Game for the first time since 1996. Interleague play started the next year, and the Senior Circuit kept up for a while and even played over .500 against the AL in four of the first seven seasons their teams collided. The AL, though, had taken over every year since.
In 2010, the NL came the closest it has since 2004 when it went 118-134 for a .468 winning percentage. The small taste this year — the leagues go back to intraleague action tonight — shows that the NL may be closing the gap. Then again, NL teams went 9-5 against the AL on Friday night and 8-6 on Saturday before stumbling to 4-10 on Sunday. Maybe the AL isn’t ready to concede yet.