Posted by Andy on June 26, 2010
I think most folks would agree that the American League has a distinct advantage when teams from the two leagues meet during interleague play. When the games are in NL parks, the two teams are evenly matched--the AL team sits their DH and both teams bat their pitchers in the last spot in the order. When the games are in AL parks, the AL gets to play their full lineup including their DH, and the NL has to pick a bench player to fill in as the DH. Since NL teams don't usually carry an extra good everyday hitter, there's a significant disadvantage in having to use a bench guy to hit in the pitcher's place. While that bench guy will certainly be a better hitter, he certainly will not be as good as the AL team's DH, otherwise he'd be a starter.
But there's one clear disadvantage for AL teams in interleague games in NL parks: the offensive game of its pitchers. Clearly the AL pitchers are (on average) not nearly as good with the bat, whether swinging away or attempting to sacrifice. But there's one other big area on offense in which they are also not as good: running the bases.
Tonight, Clay Buchholz got hurt running from first to second on a ground ball. This came after he singled in his first major-league at-bat. I'm sure Terry Francona wishes now that he'd instructed Buchholz to leave the bat on his shoulder for the entire at-bat. Even if Buchholz misses only this game and no starts in the coming weeks, that loss alone was enough to give up Buchholz's single.
This is not the first injury for an AL starting pitcher running the bases. Chien-Ming Wang got hurt in this game, spraining his foot while running. He missed the rest of the 2008 season and pitched poorly in 2009. His performance was related by many to continuing foot and leg problems stemming from the running injury.
The loss of Wang cost the Yankees dearly--perhaps even a playoff spot in 2008. The Red Sox might have just lost their best starting pitcher, too. That big advantage we thought the AL had in interleague play might not be so big after all.