Let the (interleague) games begin
The baseball purists still like to trash it some 12 years after it began, but for me, it's one of the highlights of the season. To me, baseball is about matchups -- batter versus pitcher, pitcher versus pitcher, slugger versus slugger -- and in interleague play, I get to see matchups I wouldn't normally see. That just makes the game more enjoyable.
For instance, this weekend we get to see the Red Sox versus Johan Santana and Daisuke Matsuzaka versus David Wright. Clayton Kershaw draws Jered Weaver and the Angels at Dodger Stadium. Or how about CC Sabathia's Yankees versus Cole Hamels and the Phillies at Yankee Stadium on Sunday? Tell me you won't tune in to watch that! It's a mess for fantasy owners to try to figure out (that's why we're here), but it certainly is more entertaining for the fans. That's what I'm all about: enjoying the game.
Alas, interleague play has undergone many changes, beginning with "division versus division" at confined periods on the schedule and then scattered series against primarily geographic rivals, etc. Now it's back to a short teaser and then a big block of games mixing in rivalries and opponents teams have not yet played.
It's time to preview the interleague games. Not just this weekend's three-game series, but the whole interleague schedule. See the charts below for a preview of the fantasy implications for each team, specifically the players hurt or helped the most, as well as the timing of the implications. This will give you a head start on your opposition in terms of planning.
A few notes before I begin:
• All interleague games are confined to two distinct time periods: this weekend's games, and a block of games (all three-game series) from June 12-28.
• As always, check Tristan Cockcroft's Fantasy Forecaster column the weekend before each set of games to get more specifics on what teams might do and who makes for extra-good or -bad starts because of interleague play.
• No team plays more than three road interleague series, and six of them (all in the National League) have just two.
• All of this can change because of injuries, call-ups, etc., but this at least will give you an idea of where things stand now.
Implications for AL teams
|At NL parks||Players who lose value||Comments|
|Baltimore||May 22-24 (at WAS), June 19-22 (at PHI), June 23-35 (at FLA)||Ty Wigginton, Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie||When Luke Scott is healthy, and with Aubrey Huff at 1B, all three of these players are without a starting job, unless manager Dave Trembley shakes things up.|
|Boston||June 12-14 (at PHI), June 23-35 (at WAS), June 26-28 (at ATL)||David Ortiz||Really not much more to be said here; Ortiz will be one high-priced pinch hitter at NL parks.|
|Chicago White Sox||June 12-14 (at MIL), June 16-18 (at CHC), June 19-21 (at CIN)||Jim Thome||Another easy one. Not sure if Thome even owns a glove anymore.|
|Cleveland||May 22-24 (at CIN), June 19-21 (at CHC), June 23-25 (at PIT)||Travis Hafner, Matt LaPorta, Ben Francisco, Ryan Garko, Dave Dellucci||Complicated. Travis Hafner is out, and I'm going to assume the Tribe keep their catcher rotation, putting Victor Martinez at 1B (kicking out Garko) when not catching. With Shin-Soo Choo likely to start at RF, left field likely will be a toss-up.|
|Detroit||June 12-14 (at PIT), June 16-18 (at STL), June 26-28 (at HOU)||Jeff Larish, Clete Thomas, Ryan Raburn, Josh Anderson, Marcus Thames||Looks like Marcus Thames might be off the DL by these games, leaving these guys to fight it out in left field. My guess: Thames and Anderson platoon, the others are left with spot starts.|
|Kansas City||May 22-24 (at STL), June 23-25 (at HOU), June 26-28 (at PIT)||Billy Butler, Mike Jacobs||Tough to tell with this group, but given their defensive inadequacies, I doubt both of these guys would be on the field at the same time. They'll platoon, with Jacobs likely starting more.|
|L.A. Angels||May 22-24 (at LAD), June 15-17 (at SF), June 26-28 (at ARI)||Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Rivera, Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli||We're not sure what Mike Scioscia will do at catcher; he could continue to rotate them, and Napoli wouldn't have a DH slot to go to. Once Vladimir Guerrero returns, both Matthews and Rivera would be out of starting slots.|
|Minnesota||June 12-14 (at CHC), June 23-25 (at MIL), June 26-28 (at STL)||Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Carlos Gomez||Ron Gardenhire already has five outfielders for four spots; now he'd have three spots, and Denard Span seems locked into one. Jason Kubel is locked into another against RHPs. And my guess the pecking order for the third slot is Gomez, Cuddyer, Young, in that order.|
|N.Y. Yankees||June 19-21 (at FLA), June 23-35 (at ATL), June 26-28 (at NYM)||Xavier Nady, Hideki Matsui, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner||Another toughie. Nady is due back in June, and Matsui is expected to be able to play the field regularly by then. But I still think they're the two most likely to sit. I can't see Johnny Damon moving back to center field a lot over that stretch, so I'd think it'd be the first three guys battling for one spot.|
|Oakland||June 12-14 (at SF), June 16-18 (at LAD), June 19-21 (at SD)||Jack Cust, Travis Buck||The fact that Cust already has played 11 games in the field this season makes me shudder, but if Bob Geren wants to put him out there, Buck likely would be the odd man out.|
|Seattle||June 12-14 (at COL), June 16-18 (at SD), June 26-28 (at LAD)||Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Sweeney||Griff has played the field in just 23 innings this season, while it's safer for Sweeney (and really all of us) if he doesn't don the leather.|
|Tampa Bay||May 22-24 (at FLA), June 16-18 (at COL), June 19-21 (at NYM)||Ben Zobrist, Pat Burrell, Gabe Kapler, Gabe Gross||Right now we'd have to say Zobrist is hurt the most, but there's a buzz in Tampa that Z could steal away Pat Burrell's starting slot while the latter is on the DL. You'll have to watch that leading up to those games.|
|Texas||May 22-24 (at HOU), June 19-21 (at SF), June 23-25 (at ARI)||Andruw Jones, Chris Davis, Hank Blalock||Andruw gets a rest, but Blalock or Davis, Davis or Blalock? Sheesh, take your pick. But with small ball being a bigger part of the picture in NL parks, I would guess it's Davis who sits slightly more often.|
|Toronto||May 22-24 (at ATL), June 16-18 (at PHI), June 19-21 (at WAS)||Travis Snider, Kevin Millar, Adam Lind||I gotta believe, looking at it now, that Lind would start in the outfield, and Snider would be the odd man out. In fact, he might be the odd man out in Toronto. See below.|
Implications for NL teams
|At AL parks||Players who gain value||Comments|
|Arizona||May 22-24 (at OAK), June 16-18 (at KC), June 19-21 (at SEA)||Gerardo Parra, Chris Young, Eric Byrnes||With Josh Whitesell sent back to Triple-A, all three of these players likely would get the chance to start, instead of trading between two spots. Whether that's good for the D-backs or not ...|
|Atlanta||June 12-14 (at BAL), June 19-21 (at BOS)||Garret Anderson, Matt Diaz||Yes, one of the six teams with just two road interleague series. Not exactly sure who'd start at DH anyway, because Anderson and Diaz make for such a nice platoon. Most likely, Anderson and Diaz both will be in the lineup.|
|Chicago Cubs||June 23-25 (at DET), June 26-28 (at CHW)||Micah Hoffpauir, Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson||Milton Bradley is made to play DH, so a move there opens up an OF slot. I could see Lou Piniella maximizing the offense against righties and putting Hoffpauir in RF (with Fukudome in CF), and keeping Johnson on the bench.|
|Cincinnati||June 12-14 (at KC), June 23-25 (at TOR), June 26-28 (at CLE)||Laynce Nix, Chris Dickerson, Jerry Hairston Jr.||Hairston likely would get the start versus LHPs, along with whomever is hotter between Nix and Dickerson. Against RHPs, Dickerson and Nix likely will both start. Of course, if Edwin Encarnacion is back, he could move to DH, with Adam Rosales playing 3B.|
|Colorado||May 22-24 (at DET), June 22-24 (at LAA), June 26-28 (at OAK)||Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith||Stewart has a guaranteed starting spot, or Garrett Atkins, if Stewart is starting at 3B as regularly as he has been. Barmes then would start at 2B, with Fowler or Smith continuing to share an outfield spot.|
|Florida||June 12-14 (at TOR), June 16-18 (at BOS), June 26-28 (at TB)||Ross Gload, Alejandro De Aza, Chris Coghlan, Wes Helms||Coghlan likely will be an everyday starter regardless, but in these games his spot would be safe. Meanwhile, Jorge Cantu is a likely DH candidate, meaning the team would have to have Gload or Helms play 1B.|
|Houston||June 16-18 (at TEX), June 19-21 (at MIN)||Darin Erstad, Jason Michaels||The 'Stros likely will take advantage of the opportunity to DH Carlos Lee, leaving Erstad and Michaels to platoon in an OF spot. And this is why AL teams have been more successful in interleague play.|
|L.A. Dodgers||June 12-14 (at TEX), June 19-21 (at LAA), June 23-25 (at CHW)||Mark Loretta, Xavier Paul||Tough to say here because the lineup is set with Manny Ramirez out, but I could see Joe Torre taking the opportunity to rest his infield regulars by playing Loretta (hitting .359) regularly. Otherwise, Paul could give an outfielder some rest.|
|Milwaukee||May 22-24 (at MIN), June 15-17 (at CLE), June 19-21 (at DET)||Mat Gamel, Bill Hall, Casey McGehee, Hernan Iribarren||Gamel is the ideal DH, leaving Hall to play 3B. Or the Crew could move Craig Counsell to 3B and start either McGehee or Iribarren at 2B. This would have been simple if Rickie Weeks had stayed healthy.|
|N.Y. Mets||May 22-24 (at BOS), June 12-14 (at NYY), June 16-18 (at BAL)||Gary Sheffield, Daniel Murphy, Angel Pagan, Fernando Tatis||Sheff is an ideal DH, but so is Murphy. Regardless, both should play, with Pagan getting spot starts in the OF and Tatis continuing to play the utility role. Don't assume Tatis gains in value with the extra hitting slot.|
|Philadelphia||May 22-24 (at NYY), June 23-25 (at TB), June 26-28 (at TOR)||Matt Stairs||Hello, Matt Stairs! I looked for someone right-handed who could put him on the bench against LHPs, but really, there's nobody on the team now who would. Stairs might actually be startable in mixed leagues in Week 12.|
|Pittsburgh||May 22-24 (at CHW), June 16-18 (at MIN)||Delwyn Young, Brandon Moss, Craig Monroe, Eric Hinske||Hinske has been used so little of late, he's still an afterthought, and Monroe still fits as only a versus-LHP platoon guy. But Moss has picked it up of late, and Young, a switch hitter, is holding his own; I think they both gain the most.|
|San Diego||June 12-14 (at LAA), June 23-25 (at SEA), June 26-28 (at TEX)||Scott Hairston, Jody Gerut||Say goodbye to the Hairston-Gerut platoon for at least three series. That said, I wonder if the Pads might use these opportunities to get their top hitting prospect, Kyle Blanks, a cup of coffee in the bigs. Hmm.|
|San Francisco||May 22-24 (at SEA), June 22-24 (at OAK)||Juan Uribe, Rich Aurilia, Nate Schierholtz||Nothing to see here. Move on. Nobody stands out as an obvious lineup omission right now, and the team likely will rotate these three anyway.|
|St. Louis||June 12-14 (at CLE), June 19-21 (at KC)||Colby Rasmus, Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick||With Ankiel and Ludwick likely back in the Cardinals' lineup by this time, Rasmus and Duncan likely are assured regular starts, whereas they wouldn't in intraleague games.|
|Washington||June 12-14 (at TB), June 16-18 (at NYY), June 26-28 (at BAL)||Josh Willingham||Don't assume Adam Dunn heads to the DH slot; Willingham is just as bad defensively. Very quietly, Willingham has amassed 46 at-bats in May, and he'd be the lucky dog to start in these games.|
Gerardo Parra, OF, D-backs: Hello, Parra, goodbye, Chris Young? Not necessarily, but Parra might be here to stay. He was hitting .361 in Double-A before being recalled, and Baseball America rated him as Arizona's No. 2 prospect to begin the season. The 22-year-old Venezuelan is slightly built and still a little raw, but he is wise beyond his years and has shown excellent plate discipline throughout his pro career. He's not going to hit for power anytime soon, but he probably has 20-steal speed in him and will maintain a good average. The important thing I want to say here, though, is not to make the mistake of keeping both Young and Parra in a mixed league. Pick one or the other. If you've decided to go with Parra, don't waste a spot on Young.
Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers: Manny who? OK, so Pierre is about as opposite a fantasy option as you can get to Manny Ramirez, but he has been productive nonetheless. And remember, this is a guy who can steal a lot of bases with even a platoon job. And he has been a better second-half hitter over the past three seasons. Ride the Pierre wave, because it might go further up the shoreline than you think.
Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals: Pierre, Nick Johnson ... what is this, 2006? Johnson is one of those guys who had fallen off the radar because of injuries, but it's time to put him back on it. He usually has been productive when healthy over an extended period of time, and all considering, I don't think this .333 average is all that surprising. Even more importantly, we've yet to see his full-power upside. In his last mostly full season in 2006 (he played 147 games before breaking his leg), he hit 23 homers, and that was while playing his home games at big-time pitchers' park RFK Stadium. And though it seems he's much older, he's only 30. What if he's traded to a better team with a more favorable ballpark? How would you feel then? Well, that rumor has been floated. Bottom line, he deserves to be on more than 18.8 percent of ESPN standard league rosters.
Top 100 HittersNote: Brendan Roberts' top 100 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL (1)
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLA (2)
3. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL (5)
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET (3)
5. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY (4)
6. David Wright, 3B, NYM (6)
7. Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY (11)
8. Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX (8)
9. Chase Utley, 2B, PHI (10)
10. Carlos Beltran, OF, NYM (14)
11. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB (12)
12. Jose Reyes, SS, NYM (7)
13. Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE (9)
14. Carl Crawford, OF, TB (19)
15. Nick Markakis, OF, BAL (15)
16. Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC (13)
17. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS (20)
18. Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI (16)
19. Carlos Lee, OF, HOU (17)
20. Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX (18)
21. Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN (24)
22. Jason Bay, OF, BOS (21)
23. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, SEA (22)
24. Raul Ibanez, OF, PHI (31)
25. Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, BOS (26)
26. Nate McLouth, OF, PIT (30)
27. Jimmy Rollins, SS, PHI (23)
28. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, SD (32)
29. Prince Fielder, 1B, MIL (25)
30. Brian Roberts, 2B, BAL (35)
31. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD (27)
32. Matt Holliday, OF, OAK (34)
33. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS (38)
34. Lance Berkman, 1B, HOU (28)
35. Curtis Granderson, OF, DET (33)
36. Alex Rios, OF, TOR (36)
37. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN (41)
38. Torii Hunter, OF, LAA (37)
39. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN (29)
40. Joe Mauer, C, MIN (54)
41. B.J. Upton, OF, TB (40)
42. Carlos Pena, 1B, TB (42)
43. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS (48)
44. Victor Martinez, C, CLE (47)
45. Aubrey Huff, 1B/3B, BAL (51)
46. Johnny Damon, OF, NYY (45)
47. Bobby Abreu, OF, LAA (39)
48. Hunter Pence, OF, HOU (44)
49. Jermaine Dye, OF, CWS (57)
50. Jay Bruce, OF, CIN (59)
51. Adam Dunn, OF, WAS (61)
52. Adam Jones, OF, BAL (67)
53. Carlos Quentin, OF, CWS (49)
54. Aaron Hill, 2B, TOR (68)
55. Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX (62)
56. Corey Hart, OF, MIL (50)
57. Adam Lind, OF, TOR (64)
58. Andre Ethier, OF, LAD (43)
59. Russell Martin, C, LAD (46)
60. Brian McCann, C, ATL (56)
61. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY (53)
62. Chris Davis, 1B/3B, TEX (70)
63. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, LAA (72)
64. Jayson Werth, OF, PHI (74)
65. Shane Victorino, OF, PHI (55)
66. Derek Jeter, SS, NYY (52)
67. Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL (58)
68. Michael Young, SS/3B, TEX (66)
69. Rafael Furcal, SS, LAD (63)
70. Manny Ramirez, OF, LAD (73)
71. Brad Hawpe, OF, COL (89)
72. Chris Iannetta, C, COL (81)
73. Pablo Sandoval, 1B, SF (76)
74. Vernon Wells, OF, TOR (71)
75. Denard Span, OF, MIN (80)
76. Justin Upton, OF, ARI (85)
77. Magglio Ordonez, OF, DET (65)
78. Willy Taveras, OF, CIN (93)
79. Alexei Ramirez, 2B, CWS (60)
80. Jorge Cantu, 1B, FLA (77)
81. Stephen Drew, SS, ARI (78)
82. Ryan Ludwick, OF, STL (79)
83. Derrek Lee, 1B, CHC (69)
84. Chone Figgins, 3B, LAA (84)
85. Geovany Soto, C, CHC (94)
86. David Ortiz, DH, BOS (75)
87. J.J. Hardy, SS, MIL (100)
88. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, ChC (83)
89. Orlando Hudson, 2B, LAD (NR)
90. Miguel Tejada, SS, HOU (97)
91. Jason Bartlett, SS, TB (NR)
92. Placido Polanco, 2B, DET (86)
93. Adrian Beltre, 3B, SEA (88)
94. Nick Johnson, 1B, WAS (NR)
95. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CLE (NR)
96. Mike Lowell, 3B, BOS (98)
97. Brandon Inge, 3B/C, DET (NR)
98. Bengie Molina, C, SF (99)
99. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B, CLE (NR)
100. Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA (91)
Jose Reyes, SS, Mets: I could handle the day-to-day status, the relative lack of severity of his calf injury, the timing of it ... but when I saw that he told the Newark Star-Ledger that he'll try to be a little less aggressive on the basepaths, and then he left Wednesday's game after aggravating the injury, a red flag flew like a NASCAR flagman was waving it. I'm trying not to overreact to this, and it could be something that is gone in two weeks, but when a very durable player misses five games, it's not a small injury. And calf muscles, of course, are important for running. You paid Reyes big money because he makes such a commitment to running. His steal attempts already dropped from 99 in 2007 to 71 in 2008 despite the fact that he reached base more often. Will they drop again? Could he finish with (gasp!) fewer than 50 steals? I have to drop him a few spots in my ranks until I see him runnin' crazy again.
Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox: Tick, tick, tick. The clock is counting down on Fields' time as Chicago's starting third baseman, and he has to hit to stop it. For how impatient he is with the media and umpires, manager Ozzie Guillen trends as very patient with struggling hitters, but even he is tired of Fields' high K rate and low batting average. "He's next," he told the Chicago Tribune, speaking of a possible drop in playing time for Fields. At this point, I can't see why you'd own him outside of AL-only leagues.
Mike Aviles, SS, Royals: Don't you just hate it when a hitter struggles and struggles, and then admits afterward he's injured? Mike Aviles recently admitted to the Kansas City Star that a forearm injury "bothers him on certain pitches," and that it has been bothering him much of the season. It's May 21, and he's hitting .194. Sigh. It sounds like the Royals will try to get him a few extra days off, but why wait? Drop him in mixed leagues (he's still owned in 58.5 percent of ESPN standard leagues).
Pickups of the Week
Mixed: Ben Zobrist, SS/OF, Rays. He's the player most inquired about to me in the past week, and I say yes, he deserves to be on a mixed-league roster with Pat Burrell out. His ownership in ESPN standard leagues has jumped 10.3 percent in the past week up to 14.8 percent.
AL-only: Aaron Cunningham, OF, A's. I really like this guy as a prospect, and the A's appear to be giving him at least platoon duty since calling him up.
NL-only: Hernan Iribarren, 2B, Brewers. This 24-year-old likely will get playing time with Rickie Weeks out, and he was hitting .308 with 10 doubles and six steals in 35 games in Triple-A before being called up this week.
Stat Talk or Splits Watch
• See, all it took was a homestand to get Mark Teixeira out of his funk. This season he is hitting .296 with eight homers and 22 RBIs at Yankee Stadium versus .196-3-8 on the road. The Yankees play 17 of their next 27 games at Yankee Stadium.
• The Indians, miraculously, are eighth in the league in runs scored this season, but it has been no thanks to their home park. They've scored 73 runs and hit 14 homers in home games versus 135 runs and 27 homers in away games. And Indians pitchers have a 4.36 ERA at home versus 6.80 on the road. Double-digit runs have been scored in 19 of 23 road games, and just seven of 18 home games. It might be just a small sample size or a couple big games thrown in there, but Progressive Field is working its way down the Park Factor index regardless.
5x5 Watch: Home Runs
• Am I concerned with the fact that Bobby Abreu doesn't have a homer yet this season? Yes, and here's why. He hit 14 of his 20 homers at Yankee Stadium last season, many of 'em into the short porch in right field. That means only six homers on the road, in 297 at-bats. His new home ballpark has ranked in the bottom half of the majors in home run Park Factor every season since 2004, and in some of those seasons it was in the bottom six. Meanwhile, in his career, he has hit just one homer in 136 at-bats at Angel Stadium. And finally, over the past three seasons, he has just four homers in 192 at-bats against his new AL West rivals (all of them against Seattle). So the splits suggest the homer drop (but not necessarily outage) is for real. I could see him finishing with only 10-12 homers for the season.
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On The Farm
• Cameron Maybin was unceremoniously shipped to Triple-A after hitting .202 in 26 games for the Marlins. If he keeps hitting like he has for New Orleans, he might not be there for long. He's 9-for-24 (.375) with only three strikeouts.
Now is the time to start trading, and the best players to seek are the ones who have numbers that appear well below their projections, not the ones who are currently above it. Thus, when I look for players to seek via trade, I look for those on the bottom of the sortable stats, not the top. Assuming they're not hiding an injury or losing playing time and I still like 'em, the law of averages should bring those guys up, meaning I'd be getting their best days. For instance, when I look at the bottom batting averages of qualified players, I see names such as Brian Giles, B.J. Upton, Adrian Beltre, Grady Sizemore, Alexei Ramirez ... no way those guys finish down there. Too many owners make the mistake of looking for a hot player and then trading for him at peak trade value.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.
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