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A Cleveland Indians-inspired Interleague proposal

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CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02: A view of Progressive Field prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02: A view of Progressive Field prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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MLB decided to pit two playoff-caliber teams against each other in an Interleague series to end the season. Is there a way to avoid this in the future?

The Cleveland Indians ended the 2019 season in a National League park. Had they not taken a swan dive out of the playoff race in the two games prior to their final series in Washington, the Indians would have been fighting tooth and nail for a Wild Card berth without their designated hitter.

On paper, an American League team playing its final games in a National League city benefits not only the NL team, but also any AL team who is not playing Interleague games to finish off its season.

This didn’t turn out to matter in the grand scheme of things, and for the record, I would believe all of what I’m about to say whether it ever affects the Indians in the future or not. That said, MLB should make a concerted effort to see to it that such a situation never happens again.

The fact that both leagues now feature 15 teams each means there will never be a time during the regular season at which at least two teams are not playing Interleague games. If the powers that be in the commissioner’s office are not going to make an across-the-board change to the DH rule (whether by banning it or implementing it league-wide), there are two other ways to level the playing field in terms of which teams will play Interleague games at the end of the regular season.

15 Interleague series’ to end the season

MLB’s first option is one I am opposed to, but at the very least it puts all 30 MLB teams in the same boat at the end of the season. Why should one team–whether it be the Indians or anyone else–have to go on the road to face the Washington Nationals with their playoff lives hanging in the balance when, mathematically, the entire league could be pitted against each other in Interleague play?

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The drawbacks outweigh the positives here, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it’s still not an entirely level playing field unless all 15 series’ are played in either NL or AL parks league-wide. Why should half the NL get to face AL teams at home without the DH, while the other half heads to AL cities? Naturally, the same question applies in reverse.

Moreover, ending the regular season with league-wide Interleague play eliminates the possibility of two teams in the same league having their seasons come down to a head-to-head matchup. Wouldn’t we prefer to see the Indians face the Twins with the division on the line? And so on, which brings us to our second, simpler option.

The previous year’s worst teams go head-to-head

It’s not difficult to look at the 2019 MLB standings and determine which teams are probably not going to be any good in 2020. The AL in particular featured three 100-loss teams and two more who lost at least 94 games. Do we expect Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City or Seattle to seriously contend for a playoff spot next season?

The NL is slightly more difficult to forecast, as we only had one team truly bottoming out in the Marlins. Outside of Miami, only the Pirates, Rockies, and Padres lost at least 90 games in the NL. Luckily enough, the AL West will face the NL East in 2020, setting up the potential for a matchup between the Marlins and Mariners to end the season.

Is there any conceivable way for such a series to influence the playoff picture in either league? Of course, in order to take this route, MLB’s scheduling department would have to exercise some level of rational decision-making.

The same group of masterminds that have arranged for 10 cold-weather teams without domes or retractable roofs to play each other in the final week of March 2020 probably aren’t budging on the train of thought that led to them pitting two perennial playoff contenders from different leagues against each other on the final weekend of September 2019.

It wouldn’t have taken clairvoyance to forecast that Seattle and Miami are both likely to be non-factors in the 2020 playoff hunt when the schedule was being drawn up earlier this season, the same way it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine Detroit and Miami being terrible when the 2019 schedule was drawn up last year. And oh, by the way, the AL Central played the NL East in 2019.

As for whether this predetermined toilet bowl should be played in an NL or AL park, I’m not sure how much difference it makes if the intent is to produce a series with no impact on the playoff race. I suppose as long as the two teams are selected in advance, MLB could decide on the venue once the final standings are in place. The team with the worse record goes on the road, putting them at a disadvantage if they somehow manage to get into playoff contention one year after unabashedly tanking their way to 100 or more losses.

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If nothing else, this is an uncomplicated way to avoid having the Nationals and Indians (two teams who have made the playoffs more often than not in recent years) face off at the end of the year. Someone provide me with a logical reason why this means of handling end-of-season Interleague play isn’t doable, or why it doesn’t make sense. I’ll hang up and listen.

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