The perception of the National League to fans of AL teams is that of inferior baseball, due largely to the (until recently) absence of the designated hitter. This kind of bias happens in other sports, but it’s mostly unproven generalizations like the Western Conference is finesse basketball compared to the East’s gritty, hard-nosed, offensively-inept brand of hoops. The stereotypes in college sports relate mostly to conferences, which was one of the best things about college hoops and football. Now every school is going to be one of two conferences and homogenization is only a matter of time.
Is this what awaits MLB? How many people care that they no longer have to debate the rationality of a manager who bats his pitcher eighth? Tony La Russa, when awake, is still hanging around trying to outsmart himself, so baseball writers have a piñata to swing at without a blindfold.
There’s not an NL equivalent to the Yankees — a perennial offensive juggernaut in search of just enough pitching to slug their way to a title. Even though the Cardinals have the second-most World Series wins (11) of any franchise, they’re not an Evil Empire. The contemporary candidate for that distinction is the Dodgers.
They’ve represented the NL in three of the past five World Series, and drop rolls of cash on big-name free agents while not breaking eye contact with their rivals. On pace to win 113 games as of Aug. 20, the regular season is shaping up a lot like the others since this run began in 2017. They have a .644 winning percentage since that time, according to MLB.com.
However, their 2020 title gets slandered more than the Lakers’ bubble championship because it happened during a COVID-shortened season. If not for that year, pundits and Los Angelenos would view LA as an expensive frontrunner — and there are a few who think that despite the ring. (The real ruling is 2020 was karmic justice for the Astros banging on trash cans in the ’17 World Series.)
Whether you think a new Evil Empire (First Order?) sprouting up in the NL is a good thing, it’s hard to ignore the similarities. Max Scherzer and Trey Turner went over in a deal a year ago, and Nationals’ and national baseball followers alike felt resigned to LA acquiring Juan Soto when he was made available at the 2022 trade deadline. That’s why it was so wild when the Washington star went to San Diego.
If the Dodgers are the First Order, then they need Jedi opposite them, and the way the Padres spent on Fernando Tatis and acquired Soto out from under the NL West foe makes them the obvious pick. It could be the Mets, who look like a burgeoning powerhouse, but the tragedies that befall that franchise are unique to Queens and often impervious to the large swaths of money.
So where does the addition of the DH come into all of this? If it’s easier to score without a pitcher’s spot in the lineup, then that makes it easier to win games. Now, every team has that same advantage, but how well they’re able to use it varies by organization. This is where the financials come into play. While the Yankees’ recent World Series drought has proven cash isn’t a salve for everything, rolling out a stacked lineup featuring a guy who can rake but won’t hurt you in the field kind of helps.
Since 2000, the Yankees and Red Sox (no strangers to handing out lucrative contracts themselves) have appeared in the top 10 in scoring offense 38 times (19 a piece), and have 29 postseason appearances in that span.
As much as this is Captain Obvious-type logic, the NL has always felt more chaotic than the AL because of the way pitchers could get around jams by essentially having a sure out at the bottom of the lineup. So there were more instances of teams with brilliant skills players unable to find their dick, let alone a few runs in the playoffs. The Dodgers’ well-documented postseason collapses might’ve been avoided with an extra insurance run or three.
Four of the five top-scoring offenses in MLB this year are NL teams. There hasn’t been that many since 1972 when the NL — Astros (still a few decades away from being in the AL West), Reds, Pirates, Cubs, and Giants — occupied all five slots. Six of the top 10 scoring teams in 2022 are from the NL, and the only time there’s been more since ’72 was ’72 when the league had seven of the top 10. Most of the 50 years I went through barely had 50-50 splits among the leagues for top scoring outputs.
The DH coming to the NL is a good-gets-better — as well as a rich-get-richer — situation because offenses aren’t as volatile or as prone to being shut down. That’s great for a loaded-as-is LA team, and it could mean added success for others like them who can wallpaper over flaws with sheets of $100s.
Depending on who you ask, parity is good for sports. The league office might bristle at that notion publicly, but the possibility of multiple Mets-Dodgers NLCS’ has them patting themselves on the backs like they just figured out renewable energy.
As an ardent NL supporter, I don’t know how to feel about that. Agreeing with smug AL fans bothers me, and the offensive numbers aren’t nearly as lopsided as the World Series titles over the past 50 years. The American League boasts 26 to the National League’s 23.