If you’re like me, for years you’ve felt like that Chicago Cubs’ interleague schedule is always harder than the rest of the NL Central. I could never really point to any empirical data on the matter. But when, like this weekend, I watched the Cubs getting stepped on by a team like the Red Sox, I couldn’t help but look to the sky and ask, “what’s the deal, Dude?”

Was I just being a typical, self-loathing Cubs fan? Do the Cubs really stumble into bad match-ups year in and year out, or are those of you who complain just chewing sour grapes (which, by the way, are served bountifully at the Cubs’ post-game clubhouse buffet)?

After reviewing some arguments and a little bit of data, it’s looking like we were right: interleague play is necessarily imbalanced, and the Cubs have unluckily born the brunt of that imbalance.

First, the “rivalry” games are, by nature, imbalanced. Just look at the Mets, who get the privilege of playing the Yankees every year. But, I imagine they’re happy to do it for a series that the fans really enjoy (see also, Cubs/White Sox). Where the “rivalry” crap becomes, well, crap, is in the fact that it forces MLB to manufacture rivalries that don’t exist. And when those “rivalries” happen every year between Good Team X and Bad Team Y, you’re going to have imbalance. Think the Cardinals have any complaints about playing the Royals six times a year?

Rockies’ GM Dan O’Dowd agrees.¬†“Interleague play is only designed for a few markets – the natural-rivalry markets,” he said in an article on the subject by Jayson Stark. “I’m talking about L.A.-L.A., San Francisco-Oakland, both Chicago teams, both New York teams. But if you’re not in one of those markets, you get what’s left over. And that’s where the problems start.”

Second, the imbalance of the leagues – 14 in the AL, 16 in the NL – leads to scheduling issues, creating more imbalance. Case in point, the NL Central (6 teams) is facing the AL East (5 teams) this year. Think that’s an easy scheduling feat? It’s not. And when faced with such an issue, I suspect MLB and its teams will follow the dollar – that means marquee match-ups, fairness be damned.

As the Stark article points out, the only AL East teams the Cubs face this year? The Yankees and Red Sox. Joy. The only AL East teams the Cardinals *don’t* face? The Yankees and Red Sox. Joy.

There are dozens of examples of this kind of inequity in interleague scheduling – some much more egregious than the Cubs’ travails – but it’s the nature of the spectacle. Until and unless the leagues balance out, there will be scheduling problems. And even if the leagues were balanced, you’d still have seasons in which one team has a tougher road to hoe than the others in its division.

So,¬†imbalance¬†happens from year to year. But, if the imbalance were spread out evenly over all of the teams over enough seasons (sometimes you have a tough year, other times an easier year – balanced imbalance, if you will), we’d have no reason to complain. Unfortunately, it’s been all imbalanced imbalance as far as the Cubs are concerned.

A poster at Sons of Ivy compiled strength of interleague schedule information for the Cubs and the other NL Central teams from 2004 to 2010, and came up with some interesting/frustrating/unsurprising results.

From 2004 to 2010, the winning percentages of the NL Central teams’ interleague opponents shakes out like this:

Cubs – .524
Pirates – .510
Brewers – .510
Astros – .505
Reds – .497
Cardinals – .474

Obviously a small part of those numbers comes from the fact that, if the Cardinals are always good, their opponents will have a slightly worse record (by virtue of losing to the Cardinals); and the obverse would be true for perennially crappy teams like the Pirates. But that explains a swing of maybe a game or two. It doesn’t explain this enormous chasm of difference between the Cubs’ opponents and the Cardinals’ opponents.

And, believe it or not, the difference isn’t explained by the “rivalry” games, either. If you take out the rivalry games (i.e., Cubs v. White Sox, Cardinals v. Royals), and look only at interleague opponents unique to the Cubs and Cardinals, the winning percentages of the Cubs’ interleague opponents from 2004 to 2010 is .525. For the Cardinals, it’s just .496.

That means that, setting aside imbalance issues created by the “rivalry” games and the different sizes of the leagues, the Chicago Cubs have just been unlucky in interleague scheduling.

Just another block of wood to throw on the God-hates-the-Cubs bonfire. I’m not sure that MLB cares much for them, either.

  • Jeff

    Every AL team is going to want a piece of the Cubs coming to town because they sell wherever they go, much like the Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t know how they choose the matchups, but if the schedule maker is sitting there choosing between sending the Pirates or Cubs to Yankee Stadium or Fenway, the Cubs will get picked every time. I’m sure money has a lot more to do with Interleague matchups than having a fair and balanced schedule.

    • Ace

      As I mentioned in the article, I very much suspect the same thing. Everyone wants to play the Cubs at home, and who gets first dibs? The big boys.

  • John R.


    Actually it would make sense in that regard to send the Cubs to a team that has low revenues. The Red Sox will always sell out no matter what, and the Yankees also have few problems selling tickets.

    • Jeff

      I wasn’t necessarily referring to just ticket sales. The Cubs/Red Sox series was on national tv all three games, that doesn’t happen for any team very often. I was just guessing that if teams (or Bud Selig) have any say in who plays who, the big market clubs, with the big business rivalries are always going to get preferential treatment. Yankees/Cubs or Red Sox/Cubs are two of the biggest tv draws for baseball and having those series year after year is going to attract a lot more fans than say Astros/Red Sox or Reds/Yankees, even though the Cubs are struggling, they still draw fans, ratings, and money, things that MLB is keen on getting more of.

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  • Roughriider

    I’ve suspected there is a major league edict that weighs heavily on the Cubs that prevents them from winning.
    Several years ago (1991) when an all star 3rd baseman all but begged the Cubs to sign him. Don Zimmer was quoted as saying “you can’t have an all-star at every position”. I’ve never seen that rule. The 3rd baseman was Terry Pendleton who signed with the Braves and was paid 175 K that season. He won the NL MVP award that year.
    In 1984 playoffs they should have had three home games and two away based on their record. The commisioner decided otherwise and it was swapped because the Cubs didn’t have lights then. They one the first two games at home and then lost three in a row in San Diego.
    There should be a Congressional investigation !!!!
    Hows that for a conspiracy theory ?

  • Roughriider

    The Cubs 3rd baseman in 1991 was was the great Luis Salazar with robust .254 average, 14 HRs and 54 RBIs. The GM was Larry Himes. Zimmer and Himes were gone at the end of 1991 and Salazar was gone and out of baseball after 1992. Anybody upset with Hendry should check out Jim Frey,Larry Himes, Ed Lynch and last but not least Mcfailure.

    • Ace

      This apple is disgusting and I should probably stop eating it. But all the apples I had before it were MUCH worse, so I guess I’ll keep munching.

      • Hogie


      • Jeff

        I guess we all have been eating disgusting apples for a while now?

        In light of Fred Wilpon’s comments on the greatness of his Mets team; David Wright could be a free agent after next season, and if Wilpon isn’t sold on his own franchise 3rd baseman, I know a team that is going to need one of those sometime in the near future. Just saying.

        • Ace

          An article on this very point is in the works…

  • Raymond Robert Koenig

    Let’s not disrespect Salazar. Whenever the Cubs needed a big hit, Salazar was the man to get it.

    • Roughriider

      I see you’ve changed your name Luis.
      No disrespect meant toward Salazar. However, he was no Terry Pendleton that year or any year. Since the Cubs finished in 4th place with a 77-83 record I’m guessing he didn’t get a big hit every time the Cubs needed it.
      It wasn’y meant as an indictment on Salazar. It was to show how bad some of the other general managers were, the excuses that some people made for them and how the commisioners office has #@#$%$#$ the Cubs.

      • Raymond Robert Koenig

        I was referring to 1989. The Cubs would not have won that year without Salazar. I don’t care who the GM was then. Ancient history. If the GM in 1991 or 1989 was not a good one, that doesn’t make Hendry a good GM now. I respect your right to your opinion that Hendry’s a good GM, however.

  • http://Bleachernation Bric

    The first bad decision Bud made was thinking he could expand the league for what he thought was temporary. He put teams in Tampa and Miami because all the expansions and team relocations in all leagues were going south at the time. This made a little sense given the population increases in all of these cities generating potential new fans.

    What he didn’t realise was that he was trying to canibalize existing fans from other teams, such as the Cubs, Indians, Philies, Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. His plan to continue expanding quickly folded with the god-awful attendance for these new teams (except the one northern team- The Rockies). So what to do about the unbalanced divisions and schedules of inter-league play. The response has gotton more and more complicated instead of smoothing itself out. The result is simple. Look at how the NFL handles it.

    The issue of which team from the NL central goes to the AL west is simple: The Astros. Whatever revenue they lose in television ratings is going to have to be paid be the league. The Reds don’t seem to mind playing in a division that is one hour earlier that everyone else so the Astros are just going to have to be compensated. It’s not like there’s a huge amout of people watching their games anyway.

    The interleague play then has to be spaced out over the course of the whole season. They don’t all have to play each other on the same weekend (they can’t anyway). But over the course of 6 months and 162 games I’m sure the schedulers can accomodate 12 or 15 games apiece for all of the teams without losing the rivalry games or serious headaches. Again, the NFL does it.

    One thing is certain, it’s a bunch of bullshit that the Cubs have to compete against 5 other teams to win the division when the Angels only have to beat 3. And this has been the plan for 15 years now. The first issue that he should have resolved was the unbalanced schedule and divisions. Everyone talks about the steroids but no one seems to talk about the most obvious f-up that Selig has created. And the saddest part is with a bit of creative scheduling it could be resolved in a couple of hours. Makes sense that Bud and Jim are such good friends.

    • Jeff

      I’m with you Bric. I never understood why the NL Central has 6 teams and a the AL West only has 4. It’s either laziness on Selig’s part, or not him not wanting to upset the old guard owners. I know it’s not optimal, but Houston is almost a natural choice and an easy relocation out west, and Colorado is almost an AL type team anyway, and with almost no historic value to their rivalries, it wouldn’t rob us of any classic matchups. The only problem I see would be the breakup of the Astros/Cardinals rivalry, but with Cincinatti and Chicago still around I think St. Louis wouldn’t miss it at least.

  • Ace

    It sounds like Lou Montanez is going to be the fifth outfielder. He was scratched from his AAA Iowa game today. Odds are the Cubs are calling him up tomorrow. He’s got no options, so he might stick for a while, even after Tyler Colvin’s 10-day required stay is over.

  • auggie1955

    I’m kind of sick and tired of people complaining about some teams having an easier schedule than others. A team’s goal each year should be to win the World Series. What team will have the make up to be WS champs if they are going to complain about their interleague schedule?

    Besides this Cubs is going to have trouble winning 70 games this year, so who cares?

    • Ace

      I would agree with you if it changed from season to season. If the fact that the Cardinals are guaranteed to play the Royals six times a year, every year (while other teams are guaranteed to play perennial competitors), doesn’t piss you off, then we’ve little more to discuss on the issue.

      • Hogie

        The Royals are on the cusp of being contenders for a few years while the White Sox look like they can’t get anything right. While there is not a lot of parady in baseball, teams do get better/worse.

        • Ace

          Of course the Royals can get better. After FIFTEEN years of being terrible and drafting high. Come on, man.

          • pfk


        • Jeff

          On the cusp? I know they have a lot of young talent, but they have a starting rotation that might be worse than the Cubs. They might be getting better, but they are no where near competing. I know they are a popular pick to break out soon, but they need some pitching before anyone can take them serious.

  • Bridger

    I hope you all realize that the guy saying we should put Houston in the AL is operating under a misconception.

    If there were an odd number of teams in each league, there would have to be at least one interleague series going on at all times. That is the reason there are 6 NL Central Teams and 4 AL West Teams…not laziness on Selig’s part. There are three logical ways to fix the problem (and probably myriad less logical ones):

    A) Move an NL team to the AL and always have one interleague series going on. This would take away the novelty of the interleague portion of the schedule, which I am sure MLB does not want to do.

    B) Expand by adding two teams to the AL so each league has 16 teams. This would probably involve realignment into 8 divisions of 4 teams in NFL fashion.

    C) Contract by removing two teams from the NL.

    None of these options are at all likely to happen in the near future. :)

  • Raymond Robert Koenig

    Or, if there were 15 teams in each league, 1 team in each league would have the day off while the other 14 are playing.

    • Roughriider

      I like that idea but I’m not sure it would work. It would have to be two or three days off at a time and there would be some lost week ends that MLB would never accept.

  • http://www.frenchrocks.net Ian Afterbirth

    I’m just going to wax nostalgic and pine for the old 2 division leagues and when REAL rivalries like the Cubs vs Mets existed. Remember that? So we split everything up and try to manufacture rivalries between AL and NL teams?
    I would kill KILL for the Cubs vs Mets 12-16x per year again.
    The league wants revenue?
    Is there even a true rivalry between the Cubs and Brewers for instance?
    Even the Cubs vs White Sox and Yankees vs Mets (I lived in NYC when this all started) feel manufactured and like exhibition games.
    It doesn’t matter what I think, it’ll never be as good as the pre-expansion, pre-interleague play days.

    • Ace

      I’d just as soon go the other direction, if it were possible – add two more teams in the AL, split the leagues into four divisions each a la the NFL. I guess I’m just not looking forward to the idea of a bullshit “wild card” round of the playoffs where the wild card teams have to play a coin toss three-game series just to get to the real playoffs. It’s stupid.

      • http://www.frenchrocks.net Ian Afterbirth

        But the HUGE difference is that football teams play ONE game against each other – that’s what they prepare for and what they know – one game.
        Baseball is great in that it’s about what a team can do over a period of time.
        So I agree with your feelings on the wild card round.

    • auggie1955

      I miss that Cubs-Mets rivalry. Realignment has killed that one.

      • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

        Thank. You.

        Growing up, for me it was all about the Cubs-Mets games. I didn’t give a crap about St. Louis until the mid-90’s.

        • Jeff

          I’m in the same boat TWC. I always hated the Cardinals, but the Mets always seemed to get under my skin more, probably why I can’t stand most things New York to this day. Time to wax nostalgic about how we all hated Doc Gooden, Howard Johnson, Dave Magadan, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson and the rest. Those were some great series, you never knew what was going to happen when they played, no matter how bad the Cubs were at the time.

          • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

            OK, so I wasn’t alone running home from school to catch the last half of those 1:20 games… (less of a sprint to catch the 2:20 games at Shea…) good to know.

          • http://www.frenchrocks.net Ian Afterbirth

            Yeah I hated those guys but loved em too….

      • Ace

        The relative crappiness of the two teams doesn’t help, either.

  • Cardfan

    I love this talk about playing the Royals six times. Anymore, I think we are more excited about playing the Cubs 15 times.

    Some ugly math for you – both the Royals and the Cubs have 22 wins this season. They Cubs are paying $125M to reach that number while the Royals are paying $36M. Physicians heal thyself.

    IMO Interleague play sucks, DH sucks, this site looks pretty cool though – congrats Ace!

    • Ace

      Not cool, man. Not cool.