The Jays whomped the Reds to take the series as Cito evens his record with the 2008 Jays out at 3-3. Now they just have to keep hitting for the rest of the season.
Going into today's game, Edinson Volquez had the best ERA in baseball. As I covered earlier in the advance scout, in his worst start of the year he went six innings and allowed three runs with five strikeouts and five walks. It was the only time he allowed three earned runs in a start all season. Until today. I was going to make some snide remarks about the NL-AL gap, though Volquez pitched well against both the Red Sox and Yankees previously. However, the lack of a straightforward and ultimately artificial narrative device shan't stop me.
So far this year the AL is 124 and 84 against the National League in interleague play, after going 8-1 yesterday. That works out to a .596 winning percentage, a mark only surpassed by the Cubs, Angels, Red Sox and Rays on the season. Over a 162 game schedule it translates to about 97 wins and 65 losses. So pretty good. With only 45 interleague games left on the schedule, the AL is all but assured of finishing with more wins than the NL for the fifth straight year.
Now I don't know how much one should read into these statistics, or what the underlying cause of it is. Clearly, though, something is going on. I don't profess to the type of cleverness some people around here have, but I will give it a look see. I suppose money is as good a place as any to start.
There are ten $100 million teams in baseball, of which six are from the AL (Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Mariners) and four are from the NL (Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves). The next three biggest spending clubs, however, are all NL outfits - the Cards, Phillies and Astros. The Jays are 14th, at about $88 million, if you were wondering. This year the average AL team will spend $96 million on player salaries, while the average NL team will spend almost $84 million. This is a difference of about 15%, which seems like a lot. Heck, it is a lot. However, a couple of teams skew the numbers a fair amount, as you can probably guess. The Yankees have a payroll of $206 million this year, which is about 53% more than the next highest payroll, which is the Mets at $135 million. Similarly, the Marlins payroll of $30.5 million is much less than the next cheapest team, the Devil Rays, who will spend almost $45 million. Remove those two teams from the equation, and suddenly the average payrolls in each league, $87.6 in the AL and $87.3 in the NL, are nearly identical. The median payroll in the AL is a hair under $84 million, while in the NL it's $80.5 million. In any case, other than the Yankees and Marlins (separated by only two games in the standings), there isn't a ton of difference in payrolls in teams between the leagues.
The next most obvious difference would be in management. The most 'forward thinking' of franchises, such as the A's and Red Sox, are AL teams, and the AL has a bunch of good front offices - in Minnesota, in Detroit, in Anaheim, and depending on your perspective, in New York, Cleveland and now Tampa Bay. I don't think that NL teams have been as good in this regard. Certainly Arizona seems to be pretty statistically inclined, and well regarded people are in place in Atlanta (Schuerholz), Philly (Gillick), San Diego (Towers) and Cincinnati (Jocketty). Still, there seem to be more teams that are openly ridiculed for their personnel moves in the NL - the Nationals, the Pirates, The Giants, and occasionally the Dodgers. Some of these situations have changed, but I don't see many corresponding laggard organizations in the AL. Well, other than the Orioles, and look at them this year! (Also, the Mariners?) Very subjectively and completely unscientifically, I would say that the average AL team is slightly better managed - or at the very least the bottom of the AL is better than the bottom of the NL.
After that, I suppose you could call it a sample size fluke, based on pitching matchups and the like. I would hesitate to do this - 250 games is not insignificant. If the AL has been better in interleague play five years in a row, and if everyone thinks, subjectively, that the AL is the better league, and then the AL crushes the NL, well, I think that the superiority of the AL seems pretty well entrenched.
My last thought is that the sheer amount of money being spent by the Yankees, and to a lesser extent (certainly recently), the Red Sox, has forced other AL teams to be smarter, knowing that it will take 94, 95 wins to just sniff the wild card. While NL teams have dominated, like the Braves, there have been few teams that have been good over extended periods of time. In the past six years, six AL teams with 90+ wins have missed the playoffs, while only two 90+ teams have suffered the same fate in the NL. As in any free market system, stiff competition has forced teams to be better in order to succeed.
On the whole, I would say that the AL is clearly the better league than the NL. I'd guess that the Yankees teams of the late-90s and early 2000s helped to spur this on, in particular. As a result, your average AL club is a bit smarter, or at least better, than your average NL club, and this is playing out on the field. I'm sure that it won't last forever, and in fact NL teams seem to be picking up in many regards, especially with young players. It is, as the kids say, interesting.
Hat tip, Jayson Stark. The man always has the goods.