Commentary

Interleague play will shuffle lineups

Stairs, Sheffield could get at-bats at DH; Blalock, Burrell could lose playing time

Updated: May 18, 2009, 9:36 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster last updated Monday, May 18 at 9:36 a.m. ET

Fantasy Forecaster
On tap: Memorial Day weekend arrives at the end of Week 7, and with it comes our first taste of interleague play this season. Both marquee interleague matchups involve the teams from New York; the Yankees host the defending World Champion Phillies, while the Mets head to Boston for a stiff challenge against the Red Sox.

As always, the most notable fantasy ramification of interleague play is the addition or subtraction of the designated hitter. Here's a quick one-liner on the playing-time impact for each team that will either gain or lose the DH:

Angels: (Lose DH) Bobby Abreu can move to right field and Mike Napoli to catcher, but with two lefties scheduled for the Dodgers, Abreu might sit once or twice; Gary Matthews Jr. is the clear loser here.
Blue Jays: (Lose DH) Might Adam Lind steal left-field time from Travis Snider?
Brewers: (Gain DH) Mat Gamel, a DH prototype, is an ideal choice.
Diamondbacks: (Gain DH) Both Chad Tracy and Josh Whitesell can play simultaneously, but keep an eye on Gerardo Parra as a sleeper to squeak in starts.
Giants: (Gain DH) They always rotate DHs; expect a bonus start for Rich Aurilia, Nate Schierholtz and/or Juan Uribe, maybe one for each.
Indians: (Lose DH) Travis Hafner's DL status means the only losers here are Ryan Garko and left-handed DH platoon mate Dave Dellucci.
Mets: (Gain DH) Gary Sheffield was a DH in his recent AL days, so …
Orioles: (Lose DH) With Luke Scott DLed, only Ty Wigginton loses out.
Phillies: (Gain DH) Matt Stairs was born to DH, and he's outhitting Greg Dobbs.
Pirates: (Gain DH) Might be an Eric Hinske/Craig Monroe platoon, and keep in mind the Pirates will face two left-handed starters in that series.
Rangers: (Lose DH) Hank Blalock and Chris Davis will fight for first-base time.
Rays: (Lose DH) Pat Burrell just hit the DL, so no real loss.
Rockies: (Gain DH) Ian Stewart probably benefits most, but he's playing regularly anyway; this also helps Clint Barmes, Dexter Fowler and Ryan Spilborghs.
Royals: (Lose DH) With the Cardinals' rotation all right-handed, Mike Jacobs might play over Billy Butler at first base the entire weekend.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Team advantages | Weather report | Load up: Hitters
Sleeper hitters | Load up: Stolen bases | Load up: Pitchers
Projected starters | Two-start rankings | One-start bargains

Team advantages

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' number of games scheduled ("Gm"), home games ("Hm"), games versus right- and left-handed pitchers ("vs. RHP" and "vs. LHP") and games at either hitter- or pitcher- friendly ballparks.

Weather report

With interleague play comes an increased probability teams will scratch and claw to get in those games despite questionable weather; I've attended interleague games that had multiple rain delays, often of more than two hours in length. The main reason for that: They're tough to reschedule since the visiting team comes to town only once per season, so expect immediately rescheduled doubleheaders for any potential Friday and Saturday rainouts, and long, long delays in the event of Sunday rain.

Rain will be most problematic in Florida early in the week, but fortunately the Rays call a dome their home. Diamondbacks-Marlins, however, will be threatened on Monday (70-percent chance of rain), Tuesday (80), Wednesday (50) and Thursday (30). That's not abnormal; since 2001 the Marlins have experienced more postponements in the month of May (four) than in any other month of the season. Atlanta will also face a 40-percent chance of rain each day from Thursday through the weekend.

Weatherproof games: Brewers at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Rangers at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); White Sox at Blue Jays (1, Mon); Angels at Mariners (4, Mon-Thu); Giants at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Athletics at Rays (4, Mon-Thu); Brewers at Twins (3, Fri-Sun).

Load up: Hitters

The teams listed below have the most favorable overall hitting matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.

Yankees (MIN-1, BAL-3, PHI-3): OK, let's take the numbers from the more recent seven-game homestand at the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees and their opponents totaled 83 runs (11.9 per game), 140 hits (20.0 per) and 21 home runs (3.0 per). To put those into perspective, compare those with the per-game averages in the history of Coors Field: 12.6 runs, 21.7 hits, 2.8 home runs. But it's not just ballpark influences that make Yankees hitters strong choices; the six starting pitchers they're scheduled to face in the Orioles and Phillies series have a combined 6.02 ERA and 1.61 WHIP, and not one has an ERA under 4.81 or a WHIP better than 1.48. As five of those starters are right-handed, expect a big week from Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon, who have a combined 19 homers at home.

Reds (PHI-3, CLE-3): This offense might be off to a sluggish start, ranking 19th in the majors in both runs per game (4.6) and team OPS (.750), but anytime the Reds play an entire week at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, I'm going to exploit their matchups. Philadelphia's Cole Hamels and Cleveland's Cliff Lee present challenges to this team, but the rest of the week features three opposing starters with ERAs of 6.45 or higher and WHIPs of 1.54 or greater (Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer and Carl Pavano) and a rookie (David Huff). The Reds are coming off a 26-run outburst at Arizona and have scored 53 runs in their past seven games, and I see no reason that won't extend through the homestand.

Orioles (@NYY-3, @WAS-3): Quick quiz, which American League team gets the honor of drawing as its interleague opponent the National League team with the worst ERA (5.46), WHIP (1.64) and batting average allowed (.287)? That's right, it's the Orioles, who by the way also totaled 34 runs, 60 hits and eight home runs in their six games against the Yankees earlier in the season (all at Camden Yards). Don't be frightened by names like CC Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain on the list of projected opposing starters, because at new Yankee Stadium, anything goes; those two are 0-2 with a 6.14 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in five starts there this season. Then there's the matter of the Yankees' bullpen, ranked 27th in the majors in ERA (5.79) and 28th in OPS allowed (.839). Oh, and by the way, did I mention that the Orioles get to face the NL's worst staff during the weekend? I thought so.

Nationals (PIT-4, BAL-3): So I just trashed the Nationals' pitching staff, so what? That doesn't mean that weekend series can't be a set of slugfests, because if you switch the focus to the Orioles' pitching staff, well, it ranks 12th (out of 14) in the American League in ERA (5.44), and dead last in both WHIP (1.57) and BAA (.297). That might be one ugly series, at least pitching-wise; for fantasy it's the kind of series we love to see from a hitting angle. Another factor in Washington's favor: Generally considered one of the game's worst teams, the Nationals actually rank 11th in baseball in runs scored per game (5.2) and fifth in team OPS (.809). And they're at home all week. Smells like a sleeper squad to me!

Tristan's sleeper hitters

John Baker, C, Marlins: .315 BA, .855 OPS in 44 career home games; .319 BA, .899 OPS in his career versus right-handers
Jason Bartlett, SS, Rays: .322 hitter in 44 career interleague games; .333 BA, .840 OPS in his career versus left-handers
Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: .327 BA, .854 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .296 BA, 2 HRs, .837 OPS in 19 career games versus Brewers
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: .379 BA, 1.010 OPS in nine career games at Kauffman Stadium; .300 BA, .905 OPS in his career versus right-handers
Jack Cust, OF, Athletics: .313 BA, .962 OPS versus right-handers in 2009; .333 BA, 13 RBIs, .967 OPS in 12 May games
Mark DeRosa, 2B/3B/OF, Indians: .346 BA, 12 RBIs, .942 OPS in 18 career games at Great American Ball Park; 12-for-30 (.400 BA) in eight career games at Kauffman Stadium
Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers: 12-for-25 (.480 BA) in six games since Manny Ramirez's suspension began; .356 BA, .840 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox: .298 BA, 25 RBIs in 46 interleague games from 2006 to '08; .316 BA, .837 OPS versus right-handers in 2009
Juan Rivera, OF, Angels: .347 BA, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs in 22 career games at Safeco Field; .435 BA, 1.154 OPS versus left-handers in 2009
Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates: .309 BA, .838 OPS in 40 interleague games from 2006 to '08; .354 BA, .893 OPS in his career versus left-handers
Delmon Young, OF, Twins: (check his status; he's on the family emergency list through at least Sunday) .385 BA, 4 HRs, 15 RBIs, 1.060 OPS in 17 career games at U.S. Cellular Field; 11-for-22 (.500) in five games versus Brewers in 2008

Load up: Stolen bases

Favorable matchups listed below are selected based upon opponents' catchers allowing a high rate of steals attempts and/or having low caught-stealing percentages.

Pirates (@WAS-4, @CHW-3): Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski has been a train wreck, surrendering 25 steals on 27 tries this year and an MLB-most 121 stolen bases since Opening Day 2008, and with Jesus Flores on the shelf the Nationals must rely on weak-armed backstops Wil Nieves and Josh Bard. The Pirates were thoroughly dominated by the White Sox during their three-game interleague set last season, so expect them to get more creative on the base paths by testing Pierzynski in the rematch. Nyjer Morgan remains Pittsburgh's top speed demon with nine steals, but both Nate McLouth and Freddy Sanchez have been surprisingly efficient on their tries, each 3-for-3 so far this season.

Twins (@NYY-1, @CHW-3, MIL-3): Another case of "let's-beat-up-on-A.J. Pierzynski," but in the Twins' case, tacking on three more games against the typically weak-armed Jason Kendall continues to support them as sleeper speedsters this week. Carlos Gomez might not be getting the playing time to help anyone other than deep AL-only owners, but the Twins have some sneaky picks in the category, like Nick Punto (3-for-3 this year) and Delmon Young (16 steals since Opening Day 2008). Oh, and then there's that Denard Span guy; he's 8-for-10 on steals.

Yankees (MIN-1, BAL-3, PHI-3): This team has been remarkably efficient on stolen-base chances so far, with a major league-leading 92.0 percent success rate, and much of that can be attributed to two things: Johnny Damon's and Derek Jeter's experience, and the youthful wheels of Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. This team has already battled the Orioles six times this season and swiped five bags in as many tries, and be aware that the Yankees managed 17 steals in 18 games against Baltimore in 2008, before the weak-armed Gregg Zaun arrived. Cabrera is the clear sleeper here; he has 16 straight starts and is on pace to swipe 15 bags.

Phillies (@CIN-3, @NYY-3): This is another smart, efficient team on the base paths, with an 83.2 percent success rate since the beginning of last season, and I'll attribute much of it to first-base coach Davey Lopes, a skilled base stealer back in his day. (Ask Jayson Werth a little about that; Werth is 27-for-29 in the category during that span thanks to Lopes' tutelage.) Lopes surely knows that a team can test the arm of Cincinnati's Ramon Hernandez, and that in the Yankees' case, they're relying on fairly inexperienced backstops Francisco Cervelli and Kevin Cash. Sounds like a good week for Jimmy Rollins (2-for-4 on steals attempts) and Shane Victorino (3-for-5) to bounce back from sluggish starts in the category.

Load up: Pitchers

The teams listed below have the most favorable overall pitching matchups, accounting for recent performance, strength of opponents and ballpark factors.

Rays (OAK-4, @FLA-3): Though only four of their seven games are at home, the Rays get the pleasure of spending the week taking in the beautiful May weather of Florida. (OK, so technically they'll play their home games inside, but at least the drive to the dome will be nice!) Since Opening Day 2008, they have a .663 winning percentage, 3.61 ERA and 1.26 WHIP at Tropicana Field. While the A's have scored 37 runs in their past six games, they remain ranked dead last in the game in team OPS (.660). As for the three-game trip to South Florida, consider that the Rays have won five of their past six games at Landshark (nee Dolphin) Stadium (all since 2007), all three in 2008 and two of the men slated to pitch there this year, James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine, have each won there in both 2007 and 2008.

Giants (@SD-3, @SEA-3): Go ahead and point out that the Padres racked up 19 runs against this staff in a three-game series April 10-12, but that was a different San Diego team; that team was in the midst of a 9-3 start during which it averaged 5.0 runs per game. Since their 13th game of the season, the Padres have been terrible, winning four of 23 contests and averaging 3.1 runs. San Francisco dominated at Petco in 2008, winning seven of nine games and allowing only 27 runs, and that's more the performance you should expect this time around. Tossing in a three-game series against a Mariners team that has scored but 28 runs in losing nine of 10 only makes the Giants' schedule more fantasy-friendly.

Cardinals (CHC-3, KC-3): Busch Stadium is a pitchers' park and the Cardinals' numbers there support it; they have a 3.92 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 68 home games since last Aug. 1, and 3.65/1.30 numbers in 17 games there this season, and it's not like this staff is being carried by names like Johan, Lincecum or Greinke. No, instead, Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro and Adam Wainwright have combined for a 6-2 record, 3.27 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 10 starts at Busch this season, which speaks volumes about the ballpark's advantage for Dave Duncan's crew. That Cubs series might appear scary on paper, but think about this: Aramis Ramirez is on the disabled list, and key sluggers Milton Bradley, Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto are batting a combined .194 with a .627 OPS. You scared anymore?

White Sox (@TOR-1, MIN-3, PIT-3): This might come as a shock to you, but the White Sox actually boast one of baseball's better pitching staffs in home games. Despite the homer-friendly nature of U.S. Cellular Field, this team has a .633 winning percentage, 3.78 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 98 home games since Opening Day 2008. Both Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon dominated the Twins in their first starts of the season, combining for 12 1/3 innings of five-hit, one-run baseball, and they'll battle Minnesota again at home this week. Then the White Sox host Pittsburgh, a team they swept in interleague play in 2008, during the weekend. Another note in Chicago's favor: This squad not only won 12 of 18 interleague contests in 2008, it also managed a 3.42 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in those games.

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers. Those pitchers scheduled to pitch twice this week are color-coded.

Rankings: Tristan's two-starts

Recommended cut-off point for elite one-starts: No. 22 (Wakefield)
Recommended cut-off point for "under-50" bargains: No. 29 (Palmer)

Six must-starts: Chad Billingsley, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia.

7. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Tue-MIN (Baker), Sun-PIT (Karstens): 14-3, 2.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 21 home starts 2008-09
8. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-OAK (Outman), Sun-@FLA (Johnson)
9. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@NYY (Sabathia): 2-0, 0.86 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in three career starts at Great American Ball Park
10. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-PHI (Hamels), Sun-CLE (Lee): 1-0, 2.19 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in two career starts versus Indians
11. Chris Young (SD) -- Tue-SF (Zito), Sun-CHC (Lilly): 2.93 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 40 career starts at Petco Park; 14 shutout innings vs. Giants in 2009
12. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Mon-COL (Marquis), Sat-TOR (Richmond)
13. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Tue-@STL (Pineiro), Sun-@SD (Young): 3-0, 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in five career starts at Busch Stadium
14. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Mon-MIN (Perkins), Sat-PHI (Park): 4-3, 3.15 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in eight interleague starts 2007-08
15. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-COL (Hammel), Sun-TOR (Tallet)
16. Randy Wolf (LAD) -- Mon-NYM (Redding), Sat-LAA (Lackey): 3-2, 3.39 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in nine career starts at Dodger Stadium
17. John Lackey (LAA) -- Mon-@SEA (Washburn), Sat-@LAD (Wolf): 7-5, 2.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in 13 career starts at Safeco Field
18. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Tue-@CHW (Buehrle), Sun-MIL (Bush)
19. Jon Garland (ARI) -- Tue-@FLA (Johnson), Sun-@OAK (Outman): 3-3, 3.89 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in past seven starts at McAfee Coliseum (2005-08)
20. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Mon-ARI (Haren), Sat-TB (Niemann): 7-5, 4.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 17 home games (15 starts) 2008-09
21. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Mon-MIL (Looper), Sat-KC (Hochevar): 5-1, 3.74 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in 11 home games (10 starts) 2008-09
22. Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Tue-TOR (Tallet), Sun-NYM (Redding): 9-4, 2.97 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 16 home starts 2008-09
23. Jarrod Washburn (SEA) -- Mon-LAA (Lackey), Sat-SF (Cain)
24. Joel Pineiro (STL) -- Tue-CHC (Lilly), Sun-KC (Bannister): 11-3, 3.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 22 home starts 2008-09
25. Braden Looper (MIL) -- Mon-@STL (Lohse), Sat-@MIN (Perkins): 20-13, 3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 73 career games (33 starts) at Busch Stadium
26. Barry Zito (SF) -- Tue-@SD (Young), Sun-@SEA (Hernandez)
27. Shairon Martis (WAS) -- Tue-PIT (Karstens), Sun-BAL (Bergesen): 3-0, 2.11 ERA, 1.03 WHIP in three home starts in 2009
28. Dave Bush (MIL) -- Tue-@HOU (Hampton), Sun-@MIN (Baker): 1-1, 3.14 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in two career starts at Metrodome
29. Matt Palmer (LAA) -- Tue-@SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@LAD (Billingsley)
30. Brian Bannister (KC) -- Tue-CLE (Lee), Sun-@STL (Pineiro): 2-1, 2.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in his past four starts
31. Jason Marquis (COL) -- Mon-@ATL (Lowe), Sat-@DET (Galarraga)
32. Glen Perkins (MIN) -- Mon-@NYY (Pettitte), Sat-MIL (Looper)
33. Scott Richmond (TOR) -- Mon-CHW (Richard), Sat-@ATL (Lowe)
34. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Mon-OAK (Gallagher), Sat-@FLA (Nolasco)
35. Jeff Karstens (PIT) -- Tue-@WAS (Martis), Sun-@CHW (Buehrle)
36. Ross Ohlendorf (PIT) -- Mon-@WAS (Detwiler), Sat-@CHW (Richard)

Eleven "no thank yous": Brad Bergesen, Ross Detwiler, Sean Gallagher, Jason Hammel, Mike Hampton, Brandon McCarthy, Josh Outman, Tim Redding, Clayton Richard, Brian Tallet, Dontrelle Willis.

Tristan's one-start bargains

The 50-to-90 group (owned in 50 to 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues)

John Danks (CHW) -- Wed-MIN (Liriano): 3.62 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in 21 home starts in 2008-09
Randy Johnson (SF) -- Fri-@SEA (Vargas): 2-1, 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in three career starts at Safeco Field
Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Wed-@SEA (Jakubauskas): 3-0, 4.22 ERA in four career starts at Safeco Field
Max Scherzer (ARI) -- Thu-@FLA (Miller): 2.81 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 12 career road games (seven starts)

The under-50 group (available in at least 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues)

Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Sat-CLE (Huff): 3-2 3.25 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in five career games (four starts) versus Indians
Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Fri-ARI (Augenstein): 4.37 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in four home starts in 2009
Bartolo Colon (CHW) -- Thu-MIN (Blackburn): Win, 6 IP, 3 H's, 0 ERs 4/11/09 versus Twins
Jon Garland (ARI) -- Fri-@OAK (Cahill): 3-3, 3.89 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in past seven starts at McAfee Coliseum (2005-08)
Manny Parra (MIL) -- Fri-@MIN (Slowey): 3-0, 1.42 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in three interleague starts in 2008
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Fri-COL (Jimenez): 3-2, 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in past five starts
Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Wed-@SD (Gaudin): 3.55 ERA, 30 K's in 25 1/3 career IP versus Padres
Koji Uehara (BAL) -- Sat-@WAS (Detwiler): Has a streak of five straight quality starts

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.

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