The Week Ahead: Like it or not, Interleague play is back

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Remember the novelty of Interleague play when it first came into existence back in 1997?

Fans in Atlanta could see the New York Yankees in person. NL greats like Barry Bonds and John Smoltz would make appearances in AL cities. And places with multiple teams playing in separate leagues – like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area – had the rare chance to see their local rivals square off on the diamond.

Of course most of that excitement has worn off by now. You don’t even need the MLB Network or a satellite dish to watch the Yankees just about every week. A simple television setup that includes ESPN, TBS and FOX will do just fine. And if you have more exotic tastes – Pirates anyone? – you can watch almost any game on the Internet.

But even if Interleague baseball has sort of worn out its usefulness, it, like Spencer Pratt, is not going away anytime soon.

So prepare yourself for the return of Interleague play for a 13th straight season beginning with a host of three-game series this weekend. And unlike The Hills you’ll actually get some matchups worth watching, including Yankees-Mets, Red Sox-Phillies, Angels-Cardinals, Giants-A’s and Tigers-Dodgers.

Those are some pretty good showdowns, and it’s all just a teaser for a much more extensive run of Interleague games covering the bulk of June. Sure, some of the excitement has worn off. And perhaps it takes away a little bit of novelty from the All-Star game and World Series. But it will still be a treat.

The shine may be off the apple, but it still tastes pretty good.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH (non-interleague)

Red Sox at Yankees, May 17-18: Wait didn’t these guys just play? Lighten up Francis, that was more than a week ago. Besides, this is only a two-game series, and the matchup ESPN loves the most (which means YOU WILL LOVE, IT TOO!) will only happen 10 more times this season. This is barring, of course, some sort of playoff matchup.

Giants at Padres, May 17-18: The Giants enter the week on a three-game winning streak to pull within 1/2-game of the NL West-leading Padres. (Yes, you read that right). If you like pitching, defense and speed (except for Bengie Molina) this series is for you.

Rays at Yankees, May 19-20: The two best teams in baseball – at least if you go by overall record and things like this — square off in the Bronx. Too bad it’s only a two-game series.

Twins at Red Sox, May 19-20: A tasty treat between one team that used to be great and another that could be on its way to greatness. I’ll let you figure out which is which. And I pity any left-handed hitters in Thursday’s Francisco Liriano-Jon Lester matchup.

Rockies at Astros, May 19-20: OK so this isn’t a great matchup by any means, but in the same way that every team is represented in the All-Star game, I aim to mention every team in this space at least once this season. So congratulations, Astros, this is your day! At least we have a Roy Oswalt-Ubaldo Jimenez matchup to look forward to on Thursday.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rays at Yankees (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at Rangers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (FOX)
 Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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Shapiro, Murray defend Dellin Betances after arbitration feud

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees and the American League pitches against the National League during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.

Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”

Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”

Royals will experiment with Alex Gordon in all three outfield spots this year

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 7: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals reacts to a fan while on first base during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.

Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.

According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.

While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.