Commentary

Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Interleague gambles

Updated: May 15, 2008, 2:47 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Ah, interleague play. As exciting as candy cigarettes, as innovative as the dashboard cup holder.

When the Marlins and Royals square off in their blood feud this weekend, when the Twins head for the mountains to play your defending NL champ Rockies (15-24 at last check), and when the White Sox and Giants bang heads in a Clash of the Frightens, just remember that it could be worse.

You could be watching the season's 20th Rangers-Mariners series.

From a starting-pitching perspective, the overriding lesson of the 11 previous seasons that have featured interleague play is this: Good pitchers are pretty good, no matter whom they play. The starter with the best ERA in interleague history? Some guy named Johan Santana. Also in the top 10? Fellows named Randy Johnson, John Lackey and Pedro Martinez.

That said, a few interesting non-obvious pitchers are starting against their opposite-league brethren this weekend. Let's take a look:

Gavin Floyd, White Sox (at Giants): Despite his scary 19/20 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year, Floyd has a 1.13 WHIP and a 3.22 ERA, and he has come frighteningly close to two no-hitters. He has, simply put, been very lucky: He's got a .189 batting average against on balls in play, compared to his career mark of .290. Living on the edge will catch up to Floyd, whose high fly ball ratio eventually will punish him at his home park. But for now he's got a good chance to post another strong start against the light-hitting Giants lineup in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.

Starter Rankings

Cliff Lee keeps rising up the rankings, thanks to his record start. (This list is meant to capture value from this point to the end of the season.)

1. Johan Santana, Mets (1)
2. Jake Peavy, Padres (2)
3. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks (3)
4. Cole Hamels, Phillies (4)
5. Josh Beckett, Red Sox (5)
6. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks (6)
7. Aaron Harang, Reds (8)
8. C.C. Sabathia, Indians (15)
9. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs (10)
10. Erik Bedard, Mariners (7)
11. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (9)
12. Chris Young, Padres (11)
13. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays (12)
14. Javier Vazquez, White Sox (13)
15. James Shields, Rays (17)
16. Roy Oswalt, Astros (18)
17. Justin Verlander, Tigers (16)
18. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox (14)
19. Tim Lincecum, Giants (19)
20. Scott Kazmir, Rays (20)
21. Tim Hudson, Braves (21)
22. Zack Greinke, Royals (22)
23. John Lackey, Angels (23)
24. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (24)
25. Ben Sheets, Brewers (25)
26. Matt Cain, Giants (26)
27. Fausto Carmona, Indians (27)
28. Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees (31)
29. Cliff Lee, Indians (38)
30. Ian Snell, Pirates (32)
31. John Maine, Mets (34)
32. A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays (33)
33. Dustin McGowan, Blue Jays (30)
34. Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays (45)
35. Ted Lilly, Cubs (39)
36. Jered Weaver, Angels (28)
37. Brett Myers, Phillies (29)
38. Brad Penny, Dodgers (36)
39. Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers (43)
40. Greg Maddux, Padres (40)
41. Joe Saunders, Angels (41)
42. Derek Lowe, Dodgers (35)
43. Joe Blanton, A's (44)
44. Ervin Santana, Angels (49)
45. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers (37)
46. Micah Owings, Diamondbacks (54)
47. Oliver Perez, Mets (48)
48. Edinson Volquez, Reds (55)
49. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers (42)
50. Jeff Francis, Rockies (46)
51. Andy Pettitte, Yankees (50)
52. Johnny Cueto, Reds (47)
53. Jair Jurrjens, Braves (NR)
54. Brian Bannister, Royals (59)
55. Randy Wolf, Padres (51)
56. Francisco Liriano, Twins (52)
57. Rich Hill, Cubs (53)
58. Pedro Martinez, Mets (56)
59. John Danks, White Sox (NR)
60. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks (58)
Scott Olsen, Marlins (vs. Royals): Olsen worried his burgeoning fantasy ownership when he couldn't crack 87 mph in his start Sunday against the Nationals, so tread lightly. He did say, however, that he felt better life on his pitches during a bullpen session Tuesday. He's another guy with an ugly K/BB rate (24/21), but I like the matchup against a Royals team that's last in the AL in runs scored (and just one run ahead of the Padres for the current hallmark of futility). Olsen is owned in roughly 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles (vs. Nationals): I watched Guthrie top the Red Sox on Tuesday night and was struck by what I'm always struck by when I see him pitch: He's not that great. But he's not that bad, either. That he struck out seven Boston hitters in six innings was more a product of some awful umpiring than sheer dominance, but the fact remains: Guthrie usually keeps his team in games. He's cruising along at nearly identical ground ball-to-fly ball numbers as he had in '07, which speaks well of his heavy sinker's effectiveness. The Nats don't hit homers, they don't steal bases, and as a team they're hitting a 29th-best-in-baseball .235.

Shawn Hill, Nationals (at Orioles): Practically no one has taken the plunge on Hill yet in ESPN.com leagues. In the standard, mixed-league game, that makes sense, because he's a forearm injury waiting to happen. But deeper-league owners should really take a look at him. Like Floyd and Olsen, Hill's K/BB can be worrisome: In his past three outings, he's got seven strikeouts and six walks in 20 1/3 innings. But he's given up only one homer in 30 1/3 innings this year, and in a small sample size, his balls in play average is .308, so better days could be coming. Baltimore can hit some taters, but the team's collective average is just .246.

Comings and Goings

As expected, the Angels activated ace John Lackey from the DL, where he's languished all season with an injured elbow/triceps. He pitched Wednesday night against the White Sox and allowed just one run in seven innings, striking out four. The Angels sent Nick Adenhart back to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Lackey. … Clay Buchholz went on the DL on Thursday with a broken fingernail on his pitching hand, and he'd been quite awful in his most recent two outings. Inconsistency is the hallmark of rookies, and we certainly haven't heard the last of Buchholz this year, but you have to believe the Red Sox would be very pleased if Bartolo Colon could step up and take some pressure off the kid. Pitching coach John Farrell told a Boston radio station Thursday that Colon isn't ready to throw in the bigs yet, and because of Thursday's off-day, the team can skip Buchholz's turn on Sunday. But early next week, they'll need someone, and the bet here is it'll be Justin Masterson again. … Lou Piniella told the Chicago Sun-Times that he won't recall Rich Hill from Triple-A Iowa for "several starts," despite Hill's success there (1.69 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings). Hill is still working on his control. … David Purcey will make a spot start against the Phillies on Friday, as the Blue Jays have pushed back A.J. Burnett by a day because of a rainout. The 26-year-old Purcey has 52 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse, but isn't expected to stick in the majors just yet, unless he blows the Phillies' doors off. … The Mets designated Nelson Figueroa for assignment and called up Claudio Vargas from Triple-A New Orleans. Vargas pitched Wednesday and gave up two runs and struck out six in 6 1/3 innings against the Nationals. He'll probably stay in the Mets' rotation at least until Pedro Martinez and/or Orlando Hernandez return. Speaking of Pedro, he threw 55 pitches in a simulated game Wednesday and reported no hamstring pain. He's still more than a week from his first rehab start. … The Los Angeles Times reports that the Dodgers have decided against calling up Clayton Kershaw to make a spot start in the majors on Saturday. Chan Ho Park will go instead. … Chris Capuano felt discomfort when he tried to throw on Tuesday, making it likely that he'll undergo a second Tommy John surgery. … The Kei Igawa Experience lasted exactly one start in the Yankees' rotation, as Ian Kennedy will be recalled Thursday to face the Rays. Darrell Rasner also will stay in the New York rotation for the time being. … The Rangers placed Kevin Millwood on the 15-day DL because of a strained groin but haven't announced who'll take his place in the rotation. A.J. Murray seems a likely candidate, considering he pitched well winning against the A's last week. … Doug Davis will make one more rehab start, then replace Max Scherzer in the Diamondbacks' rotation. … Former Rockies first-rounder Greg Reynolds made his big league debut Sunday, giving up four runs in 5 2/3 innings. Colorado plans to have Reynolds stick in the bigs for the time being; the team demoted Mark Redman to make room.

On the Farm

The Braves promoted Thomas Hanson to Double-A Mississippi this week, whereupon Hanson won his debut, allowing one run and five hits in 6 1/3 innings, striking out seven. The 21-year-old Hanson has gone from a 22nd-round draft-and-follow prospect to a guy who struck out 49 in 40 Class A innings this year before his promotion. Remember the name. … Jeff Weaver has been middling for Triple-A Nashville, but he still figures to get a chance with the Brewers before June 1. He has a 5.40 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in three starts. … Franklin Morales pitched five no-hit innings in his first Triple-A start since being demoted by the Rockies, but walked six. Control problems are what got him in this mess in the first place, so Colorado doesn't figure to rush him back. … Indians farmhand Adam Miller has been blister-free in four starts for Triple-A Buffalo and has a 2.04 ERA but a 1.70 WHIP in that span. The former sandwich pick is still a top prospect at age 23, but if he doesn't show more dominance (in the form of strikeouts) this year, the bloom officially will be off his rose. … Top Red Sox prospect Michael Bowden is lighting up Double-A Portland, to the tune of 41 strikeouts in 42 innings, to go with a 2.57 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and just 12 walks. The 2005 sandwich pick (How about that draft: Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Bowden) is clearly ticketed for Triple-A soon. His teammate (and '06 draftee) Justin Masterson, who made a big league cameo last month, shouldn't be far behind.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.

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