Interleague play is back. Tonight the Phillies take on the #$@!%$ Toronto Blue Jays for the first of their 15 interleague games this year. What's this mean for the Phils? If history is any indication, it means a losing record and a competitive disadvantage compared to their NL East counterparts.
Let's look at the NL East records in interleague play over the past 11 years:
Braves: 95-86 (.525)
Mets: 91-90 (.503)
Nationals: 97-96 (.503)
Phillies: 86-98 (.467)
The Phillies are the worst team in the NL East in interleague play. By far. Is this just chance or is there some reason for this phenomenon? Part of the explanation for the difference has to be that the Phillies and the Mets regularly play the Red Sox and Yankees, while the Braves and the Marlins have regularly played the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. That doesn't explain everything, but it explains some of it.
This year continues this trend of the Phillies having a harder schedule. Four of the five NL East teams get to play the Mariners, currently the worst team in the AL. The Phillies are the one NL East team that doesn't. Instead, the Phillies play the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Angels, A's, and Rangers. All five of those teams are around .500 or much better.
Quantifying the challenge the Phillies face this year, the Phillies face the teams with the highest overall winning percentage among the NL East interleague slate. Using the standings as they are today, here's the composite winning percentage of each NL East team's interleague opponents (weighting the records by games played in interleague play):
Phillies: .525 (Blue Jays, Red Sox, Angels, A's, Rangers)
Marlins: .515 (Royals, Mariners, A's, Rays, Rays)
Nationals: .494 (Orioles, Mariners, Twins, Rangers, Angels, Orioles)
Braves: .491 (A's, Angels, Rangers, Mariners, Blue Jays)
Mets: .474 (Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, Yankees)
(The Marlins' opponents are only above .500 because of the best-in-the-AL Rays. If you believe that's not going to last, then their schedule is that much easier than the Phillies'. (Likewise, if you believe the Yankees aren't going to be as bad as they have been so far, something I'm not as sure of as I am that the Rays aren't this good, then the Mets' schedule is going to be harder.))
With the schedules as they are this year, I see no reason to believe that the Phillies' historical disadvantage in interleague play, whether self-imposed, random, or because of schedule inequities, is going to change. They're fighting an uphill battle against their main opponents.