NEW YORK — One of baseball’s traditional home openers will have an innovative twist next season.
The Cincinnati Reds will play host to the Los Angeles Angels on April 1, becoming the first teams to start their seasons with an interleague matchup.
“It’s a little strange, but Anaheim has a lot of big-name guys,” Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. “It’ll be Albert Pujols coming back for the first time. It’s a nice mix for us. It’s strange, but I’d rather do that than open with Milwaukee or someone in our division we see all the time.”
The Reds, the first professional team, celebrate opening day with a parade and have opened all but four seasons at home: 1885, 1888, 1966 and 1990, according to STATS LLC.
“The tradition is still here. We’re still opening here,” Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce said.
Major League Baseball’s 2013 preliminary schedule includes several format changes caused by the shift of the Houston Astros to the American League. A National League franchise for its first 51 seasons, the Astros start AL play on April 2 vs. rival Texas.
Houston moves from the NL Central to the AL West, creating six divisions of five teams each. Under a move announced last November, the Astros will become only the second team since 1900 to switch leagues, following Milwaukee’s entry to the NL for the 1998 season.
Because there will be 15 teams in each major league for the first time, interleague play is necessary nearly every day. Since its inception in 1997, interleague play had been concentrated mostly in late May and June.
Eleven of the 15 series on the final weekend of the regular season, Sept. 27-29, will involve division rivalries. The exceptions have the Yankees at Houston, Milwaukee at the Mets, Detroit at Miami and Washington at Arizona.
MLB is abandoning its two-year experiment with midweek openers, reverting to a Sunday night start in a nationally televised game on ESPN that will be determined later.
In another shift, the New York Yankees and Mets for now are slated to open at home on the same day for the first time, with Boston visiting the Bronx on April 1 and San Diego playing in Queens. ESPN could move Red Sox-Yankees to the March 31 Sunday night slot.
“I think it’s kind of cool,” Mets third baseman David Wright said.
In areas with two teams, MLB generally tries to schedule only one club home at any time.
“Great for baseball to have all of New York watching their favorite teams play at home that day,” Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said.
Other AL openers on April 1 have Kansas City at Chicago, Detroit at Minnesota and Seattle at Oakland. NL games that day are St. Louis at Arizona, Philadelphia at Atlanta, San Francisco at Los Angeles, Colorado at Milwaukee, Chicago at Pittsburgh and Miami at Washington.
Tuesday openers include Baltimore at Tampa Bay and Cleveland at Toronto.
Under the new schedule format, a team plays 19 games against each division rival for a total of 76, and six or seven against each league opponent in the other two divisions for a total of 66. Each club will play 20 interleague games over eight series, with rivalry games - such as Cubs-White Sox and Dodgers-Angels - in consecutive two-game series during the week of May 27. That’s down from a pair of three-game rivalry series.
“We played the Yankees more than anybody. That could be difficult,” Mets manager Terry Collin said. “I think it’s starting to even out.”
In the old format, teams in the AL East, AL Central, NL East and NL West played division rivals 18 times each, while AL West played in-division opponents 19 times apiece and NL Central teams met 15-18 times. AL interdivision opponents met six to 10 times and NL interdivision opponents six to nine times. While AL teams played 18 interleague games, the total varied from 12-18 in the NL.
In addition to traditional rivals, interleague play next year has the AL East playing the NL West, the NL East facing the AL Central and the AL West meeting the NL Central.