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MLB Interleague - Gone, But Not Forgotten - Lessons Learned . . ....By Nelson Lardner

There are sufficient intriguing matchups during major league baseball's annual late-spring dalliance with interleague play to tempt players into venturing into chance's unforgiving arena - even with the unpleasant memories of interleague-intervals past lingering in the minds of baseball gamblers everywhere.

Interleague has an unusual psychological effect on the minds of the majority of those playing out the daily on-field dramas, and it seems as if most of those gamers taking positions on these contests don't put enough weight on likely effects on certain teams involved in special rivalries. Lesser-reputation crosstown (or intrastate) teams tend to take interleague MUCH more seriously than their hifalutin' opponents - and the prices are frequently better than right. But too many speculators place far too much credence in standard hardball-handicapping factors, which may be relevant when matched teams are relatively acquainted with one other, but fade into secondary significance when pitchers and hitters are up against unfamiliar opponents in strange parks under artificial circumstances.

Baseball is a simple game to handicap - on occasion. But in the typical matchup there are a daunting number of significant variables to consider, and relying on overtly-simple analysis is asking for a measure of potentially expensive trouble. In recent weeks, I was aware of a couple of well-regarded seers who were relying heavily on name-brand ace pitchers as road favorites (when up against borderline major-league hurlers in home underdog roles) as if this scenario was a guaranteed key to the mint.

It was anything but. Isolated successes were outnumbered by bizarre "how 'bout that!" results, of the caliber so often produced by interleague play. And the constant lay, lay, lay demanded by the outlined situation remains detrimental to long-term bankroll health.

Judicious handicapping can yield isolated opportunities for profiting from the formful performance of favorites, in any sport. I can think of certain scenarios in both of the major United States varieties of football . . . college and pro basketball . . . and major-league baseball, in which favorites have proven to enjoy a considerable, long-term advantage. The mantle of favoritism in baseball is more of a predictor of likely success than ever before . . . by that, I mean that a consensus of opening prices turned out by major oddsmakers is isolating a higher pure percentage rate of winning teams than at any time previous, by my recollection . . .

But that doesn't mean that oddsmakers don't make "mistakes". The vast majority of apparent oddsmaker "errors" are simply the result of pricemakers catering the inevitable effects of powerful public perceptions. So long as Hot Pitcher A remains a public darling, it would be witless for smart operators to offer him at anything resembling a bargain price - unless insiders had a good idea said pitcher was going sour . . . indeed, perhaps but one start away from the disabled list.

Capitalizing on individual team quirks continued to be a rewarding pastime, even during interleague. This year's Yankee edition has proven to be exquisitely vulnerable to "cute" lefties (who rely far more on location and guile than on heat) whom the Yanks haven't been exposed to previously. The Giants' Noah Lowry filled the bill to a "T" Sunday afternoon, especially once players got a load of a Yankee lineup bereft of a number of the usual participants, including Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi. Lowry walked more than you'd like to have seen (five, in five-plus innings), but kept the Yanks at bay as Frisco drew off to an easy triumph.

One overall recent trend worthy of close attention is the belated dominance of "overs", with said "overs" running at over 57% through the bulk of the most- recent interleague presentations. The initial portion of the broad season put "over" players in a deep hole; not surprising, given the surprising sort of enervating, extreme weather encountered . . . even after that, many position players took an inordinate time to get rolling at the bat . . . but the "highs" are being hit now, and would say that the linemakers have not quite caught up with it yet. Unfamiliar pitchers may largely distress interleague hitters, but bad middle relief is bad middle relief . . . it's endemic in the major-league game, and given the broad fragility of even most legitimate MLB pitchers, thinning talent pools of moundsmen make those with wood in their hands happy . . . and their backers, as well.

But now, interleague can be put away, until the World Series. Hopefully they'll be able to get that little scheduling detail put away before heavy northern snows . . . or at least the first frost. Thanks for everything you've done, Bud - not!

Nelson Lardner

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