- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

THE AMERICAN WAY

Interleague play in baseball ends Sunday, which can only be good news for the National League. On the other hand, another one of those darned All-Star games is coming up.

With two games remaining Saturday night, the AL held a 128-107 edge, which actually represents improvement for the NL. That’s the closest margin since 2004, when the AL nosed out a one-game advantage. The last time the NL won more interleague games was 2003.

The distance might be narrowing, but the trend continues. The AL has been the better league for years, and this season is no different. The Los Angeles Dodgers are probably the best team in baseball, but even with a shallower pool (14 clubs to 16 for the NL), the AL still has more good teams. About half of the AL might be better than all but two NL clubs.

Six straight years of AL interleague superiority is reinforced by the All-Star game. It can’t be a fluke that the AL has won 11 in a row — not counting the infamous 2002 tie, the highlight of NL All-Star history of the millennium. The last NL All-Star win was so long ago that only nine players from both rosters (out of 77) are still active. One was a skinnier Alex Rodriguez, in his second year. It was 1996. Derek Jeter was a rookie, the Orioles were good and steroids were a topic mainly whispered about.

At least the NL has fared better in recent World Series play, splitting the past 10.

The usual explanation of why the AL is better usually involves the word “cyclical,” but maybe there’s more to it than that. The designated hitter provides more potent lineups. A more substantial reason might be money. The New York Yankees are baseball’s biggest spenders by far, but their rivals, the Boston Red Sox, are a healthy No. 2. Those teams, it has been suggested, have given other AL clubs at least some incentive to try to keep up, within financial parameters.

Also, AL pitching has improved. The AL is still the so-called “hitter’s league,” but its overall earned run average the past few seasons has crept within shouting distance of the NL. It used to be not even close. The AL can hit and pitch.

HE SAID WHAT?

“Right now, it is possible Ricky plays another year or two in Europe.” — Esteve Rubio in comments translated from Spanish. His 18-year-old son, Ricky, was taken by Minnesota with the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft.

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