Unbalanced schedule favors White Sox

Six games vs. Cubs could be the difference in AL Central race

Can a playoff team vote an opponent a playoff share?

Can it tip the schedule maker?

We might find out this season if the White Sox edge the Indians for the American League Central title or finish just ahead of the Orioles for one of the two wild-card spots.

After all, the Sox get their usual six cracks against the Cubs in interleague games — and that easily could turn into a 5-1 or 6-0 record against the team with the worst record in the majors.

Is it time to address the unbalanced scheduling?

"That's the million-dollar question in interleague,'' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Sunday at Wrigley Field. "One thing that hurts it a little bit is (playing) teams six times. It's great, don't get me wrong, but that's where the balance gets off a little bit.''

Especially when there's a team around like the Cubs, who are focused as much on 2014 and '15 as on figuring out how to beat Zach Stewart, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd.

That's right, Zach Stewart. Based on what they saw at Wrigley a month ago, the Sox feel like they can accomplish two goals in this series — protect their lead in the Central and get a little extra rest for Peavy, Floyd and especially Chris Sale, who had been scheduled to pitch Wednesday.

The Red Sox were forced to expand their rotation Sunday, starting Franklin Morales in place of Josh Beckett. It was the first big league start since 2009 for Morales, and the left-hander piled up nine strikeouts in five innings before Bobby Valentine went to the bullpen. He got Alfonso Soriano in the first inning, with Starlin Castro on third and one out, and struck out the 5-6-7 hitters — Jeff Baker, Joe Mather and Welington Castillo — in order in the fourth before getting the 8-9 guys — Luis Valbuena and pitcher Paul Maholm — to start the fifth.

Pretty good for a setup, man, huh?

While the White Sox roll out the welcome mat for the Cubs on Monday night, the Indians will be hosting Dusty Baker's Reds, who have gone 19-8 since May 18 to take control of the National League Central. That's a prime example of the potential inequities in the current system.

The Sox lead the Indians by 11/2 games and can credit that margin to the Reds sweeping the Indians last month at Great America Ball Park.

For the moment, the Sox don't have as good of a record as the Orioles. But they have plenty of time to work on that, and interleague play certainly shouldn't hurt them. The O's get two series against the Nationals, who have the second-best record in the NL.

And here's one for you: Somehow the Yankees play two series against the Mets and Braves this year. Don't ask me why.

There's pretty much no explaining an unbalanced baseball schedule, and that is beginning to bother a lot of people. I'm not one of them, particularly, but I understand the position. I also know it definitely doesn't bother Commissioner Bud Selig.

I've always believed the volume of games does a great job separating the most deserving teams from the other ones, and I still do. Some years it's tougher to make the playoffs in one league than the other, and certainly in one division than the others. Ask the 1993 Giants.

Many baseball analysts with accounting tendencies would make significant changes in how the game is run. But they're going to have to wait until someone else is in office because Selig understands his sport is doing just fine with all of its quirks, including the ongoing designated hitter taffy pull.

Dodgers President Stan Kasten believes baseball is getting that one right.

"A long time ago Baskin-Robbins figured out they could make more money with 31 flavors than one,'' Kasten told me. "That's been a pretty good policy. I can think of a whole lot of other things I'd rather have fans arguing about than the designated hitter rule. That seems a pretty healthy argument, doesn't it?''

With interleague play becoming a daily necessity in 2013, when the Astros move to the AL to facilitate a 15/15 split between leagues, there is a chance the interleague format will be changed to eliminate home-and-home play every season between natural rivals such as the Sox and Cubs. But it's a very small chance as Selig knows those series are good business.

"I've always heard (the complaints about) the unfair advantage," Selig said after the last quarterly owners meeting. "But things change. Teams go up, teams go down. You have to do what's fair, but you have to have the right format and go from there, and frankly, the Mets and Yankees have never complained to me about it. A lot of clubs have never complained."

The White Sox certainly won't complain.

Those 25 limousines that will be lined up at Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon? Those would have been sent by the Sox.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers
 

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