MLB Insider: New regional interleague format a buzzkill

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 1, 2013 - 4:52 PM

Major League Baseball refers to them as prime rivals — but there was nothing prime about many of the interleague series last week.

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Only 24,413 fans saw Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez watch a home run by the Twins’ Aaron Hicks sail over the fence Tuesday, one of many rivalry games that didn’t draw well.

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Major League Baseball refers to them as prime rivals — but there was nothing prime about many of the interleague series last week.

Last week, the league arranged its interleague schedule so all the neighborhood/regional matchups could take place — and we’re not talking about the Rangers-Diamondbacks or Tigers-Pirates series. Think Cubs-White Sox. Mets-Yankees. Dodgers-Angels. These were the matchups that were supposed to remind us why we love interleague play.

MLB frequently has told us how great interleague play is and how the fans love it. And I agree that there’s a heightened interest when the “prime” rivals meet. But the league might have messed up a good thing last week by altering the format.

In recent years, interleague rivalry series consisted of two three-game series played on weekends at each location. For the regional rivals, it made travel easier. The Twins-Brewers series is a great example, as fans of both swarm the other city for the games, and it has created some electric atmospheres.

This year, the league trashed the two three-game series in favor of a four-game series in which two games are played in one city on Monday and Tuesday before changing venues for the next two games.

Talk about a buzz kill.

On Monday, Memorial Day, the announced crowd of 38,627 in Milwaukee included thousands of Twins fans — who had to go home after the game to work Tuesday. Tuesday’s crowd dipped to 24,413. Both teams are playing sub-.500 ball — that is not being ignored. But Twins and Brewers fans have needed little prodding to go on weekend road trips in the past.

The Twins drew crowds in excess of 30,000 on Wednesday and Thursday, which isn’t shabby, but history shows that they would have been pushing sellouts if held on the weekend.

“I just know that it’s always been really cool here when our team comes in on a weekend,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Twins fans load this city and just the opposite when Brewers fans come over there. In the middle of the week, it makes it a little tougher. I understand how hard it is to make schedules out but those natural rivalries like this one have been fun.”

Look elsewhere around the league.

None of the Cubs-White Sox games sold out.

The Memorial Day game between Baltimore and Washington was sold out, the rest weren’t. And these are two teams with legitimate playoff chances.

Cleveland is one of the surprise teams in the league but drew just 18,364 on Thursday for its matchup with a very good Cincinnati team.

Another big question: With the move to two games in each city, why would the league take away a probable big gate from an interleague rivalry game from each owner?

Perhaps this was a test run and the league will return to weekend series for interleague rivals. It would be the right thing to do.

Central Intelligence


It’s going to be strange seeing uniform No. 5 in the Royals dugout again.

George Brett is back. The Hall of Famer and doubles machine has joined Kansas City as an interim hitting coach. When Jeff Francoeur homered Thursday, it was the Royals’ third long ball in 15 games. Three! Cubs pitchers have hit four home runs this month. So they need the help.

Brett has been as a vice president of baseball operations since retiring in 1993. He’s the franchise’s all-time hit leader with 3,154 during a 21-year career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

“I feel the same frustration as the players do,” Brett said. “I feel the same frustration as our manager, Ned [Yost], and our general manager, Dayton [Moore], and our ownership, David and Dan Glass.

“Just frustrated watching night after night after night.”

Brett’s sweet lefthanded swing has him sixth on the all-time doubles list with 665. It will be interesting to see if Brett, who was tutored by hitting guru Charley Lau, can connect with his new pupils.

The Twins travel to Kansas City next week to face Brett and the Royals.

George Brett’s son, Jackson, plays football and baseball at the University of St. Thomas.

• • •

The White Sox fought their way back to .500 last week and now have veteran lefthander John Danks back after a year of dealing with shoulder issues.

Danks has had one good start and one so-so start but is expected to give the rotation a boost.

• • •

Indians closer Chris Perez has landed on the disabled list because of a sore shoulder.

He also had shoulder problems during spring training but Cleveland is confident he’ll be ready to pitch when he comes off the DL on June 13. Vinnie Pestano will serve as the closer until Perez returns.

• • •

Tigers pitchers have allowed just 31 home runs entering the weekend, easily the fewest in the American League. The could lead the league in that category for the first time since 1944.

Three observations ...

• Brewers’ shortstop Jean Segura is a stud.

He’s got pop, will go with the pitch, can run and has a super arm. The Brewers fleeced the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade last July.

• Two general managers who might have to explain themselves for moves that have failed to work: Seattle’s Jack Zduriencik and Kansas City’s Dayton Moore.

• Twins fans who complain that the club should have selected Kevin Gausman last year — because he’s already in the majors and the Twins need pitching — remind me of fans who wanted Mark Prior over Joe Mauer.



... and two predictions

• The Twins will go 13-13 in June.

• The Reds will leap from third place to take the NL Central lead by the end of the month.
 

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