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New format brings buzz to Interleague's 'prime rivals'

Starting Memorial Day, teams meet in back-to-back, home-and-home two-game sets

As if the biggest Interleague rivalries didn't already generate enough excitement on their own, this year each will come with an added twist.

Monday's full slate of Memorial Day games will signify the start of the "prime rivals" segment of Interleague Play. Yet instead of playing a pair of separate three-game series in each team's home stadium as has been done in the past, the meetings this year will come in back-to-back two-game sets this week in a home-and-home series format.

In other words, one team will play host to its rival on Monday and Tuesday before the same clubs travel to the other team's home venue to complete the series on Wednesday and Thursday. That is, except for the Rangers and D-backs, who will play a doubleheader in Arizona on Monday before using Tuesday as a travel day and finishing their four-game set in Arlington on Wednesday and Thursday.

For crosstown rivals such as the Yankees and Mets, the new format isn't much of an inconvenience at all.

"It's good, not traveling," Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said of the midseries switch. "Twenty minutes travel, and we have an escort. Fans love it. I think they get good joy out of it."

Yet even for teams that won't need to travel very far midweek to continue their series, the two-game sets are not necessarily ideal. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he prefers the old format when it comes to facing the White Sox in the battle of Chicago, though he expects the same type of atmosphere on Wednesday and Thursday, when the two clubs meet at Wrigley Field.

"It's such a strange circumstance to play four games, in obviously the same city but in two different parks," Sveum said. "There's no other way to do it now, and there's nothing you can do about it, but it's kind of funny how it comes that way with the crosstown rivals."

There are plenty other "prime rivals" squaring off this week that won't need to worry about traveling very far. Other series involving geographical neighbors include the Dodgers-Angels, Giants-Athletics, Twins-Brewers, Indians-Reds, Orioles-Nationals, Cardinals-Royals and Marlins-Rays.

A number of this week's Interleague series also represent past World Series matchups. In fact, seven of the 15 series taking place this week pit former World Series foes against one another.

One of those such series will take place in the Bay Area as the Giants and A's meet in a rematch of the 1989 Fall Classic. With Oakland being eliminated in last year's American League Division Series and the Giants coming out of the National League to win the World Series, A's manager Bob Melvin admitted he has thought about the intrigue that would have surrounded another Bay Area Fall Classic.

"It would've been really exciting," Melvin said. "It's tough to do that, because the way it plays out is the way it plays out, but it would've been cool. The way it played out last year, the way both teams played down the stretch, the excitement of baseball in the Bay Area, it would've been really neat."

Though this week's four-game set won't carry the same feel as a World Series meeting would have, Melvin is still excited to see the fans come out to both venues for the rivalry's next chapter.

"You can say all you want that it's just another team, another four games -- and it is another team and another four games -- but in the Bay Area, it takes on more importance than that," Melvin said. "Everyone's watching. Stands are packed, whether it's our place or their place. It's a raucous crowd, our side and their side. It's kind of cool."

Speaking of sides, Cubs starter Edwin Jackson will have pitched on both ends of the Chicago rivalry once he makes his scheduled Tuesday start against the White Sox. Jackson, who pitched for the South Siders from 2010-11, defeated the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 1, 2011.

"Most teams, when you have two teams in one city, and they play each other, it's the battle of the city, it's bragging rights," Jackson said. "You only play each other once a year and it's another series, but it's for the city. It's amongst the families, the households."

Whether or not teams are playing an in-state rival or former World Series opponent, this "prime rivals" week will unfold unlike any other in Major League history. In the end, regardless of all the hoopla surrounding the home-and-home Interleague series, the focus for each club will remain on notching a series victory against a foe from the opposite league.

"It happens in baseball," said Astros manager Bo Porter, whose club will play afternoon games in Houston on Monday and Tuesday followed by night games in Colorado on Wednesday and Thursday. "It's all part of scheduling. We're pretty much treating it like a four-game series, and you don't worry about the venue."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.