The Newest AL Team and What It Means For The Detroit Tigers
By Sam Genson
I am sure everyone reading this is now aware that the Houston Astros, formerly of the National League Central, are now a member of the American League West. The move was made as a concession to the MLBPA in the latest round of collective bargaining agreement talks (CBA), with the MLB and previous owner Drayton McClane discounting the sale price by $70 Million to entice new owner Jim Crane to make the move to the AL West. This means that the American League and National League both sit at 15 teams (rather than 14 and 16 respectively as they were). If you are doing the math, you will realize that means that one team from each league will not be able to play one of its peers each series…and as such, starting in 2013, Major League Baseball with now have season long Interleague Play. Another change, that Garret has already covered, is that there will now be TWO Wild Cards in each league (each WC winner will play the other with the right to move on to face one of the three division champions).
These are, no doubt, massive changes for baseball. While the Astros are obviously the most significantly impacts club, the other 29 teams will feel repercussions of this move. For one, it creates a much more balances schedule, with all of the teams inside each division playing a nearly identical schedule. While you still have the issues of one team playing another while they were hot or cold, you don’t have the problems of one team playing a “protected game” (i.e. Cubs and White Sox) while the Tigers would have to face the Braves or Diamondbacks instead. With the increased importance of winning the division now in play, this scheduling tweak is much needed.
The obvious change that people will either love or hate is that Interleague Play is most certainly here to stay. Not only that, but it will now be spread throughout the year. No longer will Interleague Play be a sideshow to the regularly scheduled pennant races, now it is just part of the season, an obstacle that treats each team fairly. While the number of games between each league increases, having them spread throughout the season is vastly more helpful. Previously, it would seem like an interruption in the season when the Tigers would go on their Interleague swing. Some writers, like James Schmehl of MLive.com, are of the opinion that a season sprinkled with Interleague play will be more harmful to the Tigers than the current system. I understand his point, and it is a fair one…however, I disagree.
The Tigers have a full-time DH in Victor Martinez. While he could start some games at 1B, the Tigers then need to find a place for Miguel Cabrera (hey, I think we covered this once upon a time). The Tigers are far from alone in facing such a dilemma though. Other teams, such as the Boston Red Sox with David Ortiz, the Chicago White Sox with Adam Dunn, and the Cleveland Indians with Travis Hafner (just to name a few) have the exact same problem. While I still hope we can see both Victor and Miguel on the field together, that possibility seems somewhat remote (although this is the same team that played their All-Star catcher at 3B for a game in Colorado, so you never know). Schmehl points out in his article, that while 2013 will see an influx of Interleague games, the problem facing the Tigers is more immediate as they have a 6 game National League trip in 2012.
Instead of looking at this situation as a negative, we should instead view the positives of it. While the Tigers will be without the DH in National League games, it is not as if the NL teams will have an extra hitter. They will still have a pitcher there, who in most cases, will lay down a sac bunt or flail away at three straight fastballs. So, the Tigers can easily match that. Additionally, they will have an All-Star caliber bat on the bench, waiting for the right moment to replace a pitcher in the batters box. Instead of Don Kelly taking swings, you have Victor Martinez. I would say that is a vast upgrade and gives the Tigers a decided strategic advantage. Oh, and with Victor being a switch hitter, the “handedness” advantage goes out the window as well. Jim Leyland could force an opposing manager to bring in his ace reliever in to face Martinez in the 6th inning rather than wait until the 8th.
While the above situation is not ideal, I w ould not exactly call it a disadvantage, as Schmehl does. I think it just changes the way Leyland and the Tigers need to approach their lineup management and in-game strategy. What Schmehl considers a disadvantage could actually end up benefiting the Tigers in the long run. After all, it is not as if the Tigers would not be forced into just this scenario if they were to go to the World Series. Why not have some more practice to hone your technique before it really counts in October?