Commentary

Strasburg debuts, interleague returns

Updated: June 6, 2010, 1:28 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, June 6 at 1:28 p.m. ET.

On tap: Can't bury the lede; the top story of Week 10 is the major-league debut of Washington Nationals uberprospect Stephen Strasburg, set for Tuesday versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. That sets him up for a two-start week with a favorable set of matchups, as the second turn comes at the Cleveland Indians. Both of those offenses rank among the worst in baseball; the Pirates rank 29th in terms of runs per game (3.23) and batting average (.237) and 28th in OPS (.666), while the Indians rank 26th in runs per game (3.88) and OPS (.678) and 27th in batting average (.241). Obviously Strasburg, 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and .158 batting average allowed in 11 minor league starts between Double- and Triple-A ball, is a worthwhile fantasy starter for each of those matchups. But where does he rank specifically for the week? Read on …

If Strasburg is facing the Indians, it means interleague play is back beginning in Week 10, as that portion of the schedule resumes on Friday, June 11, and continues through Sunday, June 27, which concludes fantasy's Week 12. This week's schedule includes some compelling matchups such as Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels at Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies at Boston Red Sox, but also such "exciting" battles as Nationals-Indians (at least the first two games aren't) and Kansas City Royals at Cincinnati Reds.

With interleague play, obviously, comes designated-hitter implications. American League teams won't have 'em in National League ballparks, and NL teams add 'em in AL venues. Before we start with the matchups, here's a quick rundown of the hitters potentially affected Friday-Sunday:

Atlanta Braves: Unless Chipper Jones needs the DH spot, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hinske might be able to play simultaneously.
Chicago White Sox: Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones are most impacted, not that either one was an everyday player.
Florida Marlins: Perhaps this is the reason rumors are swirling that top prospect Michael Stanton will soon get the call?
Houston Astros: Carlos Lee traditionally serves as the Astros' DH, which opens up left field for Jason Michaels or Cory Sullivan.
Kansas City Royals: Jose Guillen might be relegated to pinch-hitting duties, as he has made only two appearances in the field all season.
Los Angeles Angels: When the Angels lost their DH May 21-23, DH Hideki Matsui sat twice, left fielder Juan Rivera the other time.
New York Mets: If it's not Fernando Tatis benefiting from the extra at-bats, surely it'll be Chris Carter, a natural pick to DH.
Oakland Athletics: Jack Cust is more than capable of shifting to left field, meaning Gabe Gross should return to a reserve role during the weekend.
Philadelphia Phillies: Expect the Phillies to DH either Raul Ibanez or Ross Gload, the former more likely because it frees up left field for Ben Francisco.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Neil Walker could serve as the actual DH, though the Pirates might just shuffle their infield and scatter the additional at-bats.
Seattle Mariners: Unless the Mariners want to try Mike Sweeney at first base versus those San Diego Padres lefties, he'll be limited to pinch hitting.
Texas Rangers: Can the Rangers afford to risk the aging Vladimir Guerrero playing right field? He has done it six times so far, four as a starter, and usual right fielder Nelson Cruz is on the DL. David Murphy might take a seat.
Toronto Blue Jays: The last time the Blue Jays lost their DH, May 21-23, Adam Lind shifted to left field for two of the three games, bumping Fred Lewis.
Washington Nationals: They finally have a way to get Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy and Cristian Guzman into the same lineup, assuming they want to.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Projected starting pitchers | Pitching strategies
Team advantages | Hitting strategies
Weather report | Week 10 pitcher rankings

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start twice this week are in color-coded boxes.

Tristan's pitching strategies

• Let's talk Strasburg again, for a moment. Keep in mind that the Forecaster's (and Daily Notes') rating system is based entirely upon major league statistics, not personal opinion, so it's understandable that Strasburg's will be the least accurate of any above, because he obviously lacks major league statistics. The "9" he earned for his two starts is mostly a product of the matchups, as both the Pirates and Indians rate perfect-10s for opposing pitchers in terms of those teams' offensive performance, and both ballparks in which he will pitch are above-average for pitchers. (Understanding, of course, those represent two-thirds of the formula.) If you're of the mind that Strasburg is as talented as any pitcher currently in the majors, he would register a perfect 10 for each matchup, and rate among the best fantasy options of the week. But for argument's sake, even if you regard him as a league-average talent -- which he's simply not -- the formula would still generate a "6," which is still a starter in the majority of fantasy leagues.

• The San Diego Padres have arguably the second-strongest set of matchups, kicking off the week with the final game of a wraparound series at the Philadelphia Phillies before heading to New York's Citi Field for three games and coming home to host the Seattle Mariners for three. That means six games at pitching-friendly ballparks, and this is a team plenty familiar with playing at such venues. Jon Garland and Mat Latos have been two of the hottest pitchers in the game for the past month, and two-start pitcher Clayton Richard, who has four quality starts his past five tries with a 3-1 record, 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, is a Week 10 standout. In fact, if there's any Padre to avoid, it's Wade LeBlanc, partly because his command has been shaky in his past few turns, but also because he gets the unfortunate honor of having to pitch that Monday game at Citizens Bank Park.

• Just because the Mets face the hot-starting Padres doesn't mean their pitching matchups aren't also favorable. If you're speculating on wins, you're going to have to make individual calls Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but that doesn't mean starters from both sides aren't still fantasy-worthy for ERA/WHIP/K's purposes. The Mets also conclude their week with a three-game series at the Baltimore Orioles, whose .676 team OPS ranks 27th in baseball.

• Like the Nationals, the New York Yankees face two opponents that rank among the bottom five in baseball in terms of team OPS: The Orioles and Houston Astros (30th, .624). Not that you need us to tell you to activate your Yankee starters, as you should already have at least four of the five active, but it's the fifth -- Javier Vazquez -- who needs be in your lineup, too. Vazquez has quality starts in three of his past four starts, and 23 strikeouts compared to eight walks in 26 innings in his past five appearances. In addition, the last time he faced the Astros -- his Saturday opponent -- he tossed an absolute gem, throwing seven shutout innings of three-hit, nine-strikeout baseball for a win last Sept. 8.

• The sleeper play of the week is the Texas Rangers, despite the fact that their first four games will be played at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark and their final three at the Milwaukee Brewers, whose .787 team OPS ranks fourth in the majors. Those four home games are against the Seattle Mariners, who in addition to ranking 29th in OPS (.663), totaled just 12 runs, 47 hits and only one home run in their six previous head-to-head meetings this year, five of which were Rangers wins. In addition, Rich Harden, who starts Friday's game at the Brewers, has quality starts in each of two career starts at Miller Park, and 19 K's in 13 innings, while Colby Lewis, who starts Sunday, is the kind of pitcher the Brewers might have some trouble against due to what might be limited scouting reports. It sure helps that the Rangers have a rock-solid closer protecting their leads; Neftali Feliz is 11-for-12 in save chances with a 0.61 ERA and 0.68 WHIP in his past 15 appearances.

For more insight into Week 10 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter at column's end.

Team advantages

The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Tristan's hitting strategies

• While Strasburg's and the Nationals' pitching matchups are great, it's their hitting matchups that might be even more favorable. Consider that the Pirates' staff ranks 28th in the majors in team ERA (5.30) while the Indians' staff ranks 27th (4.92), and the Nationals will face three left-handed starters. That's significant, because this offense ranks seventh in baseball in team OPS against southpaws (.787), with Cristian Guzman (.373 AVG), Josh Willingham (.292 AVG, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs, 1.005 OPS) and Ryan Zimmerman (.286 AVG, 13 BB, .936 OPS) three of their standouts versus that side.

• Surprise, surprise, it's the Yankees' hitting matchups that stand out as well, thanks to the opposing Orioles and Astros ranking among the 10 worst pitching staffs in baseball in terms of team ERA (Orioles 25th, 4.70; Astros 21st, 4.51), as well as all six of their games being played in hitting-friendly environments. Not that you need us to tell you that Yankees hitters are standout plays, but if you had any doubts with players like fresh-off-the-DL Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner or even Francisco Cervelli in deeper leagues, here's your confirmation to start 'em all.

• The Detroit Tigers rate a "9" this week, thanks to three games at homer-friendly Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field as well as three versus the patchwork Pirates rotation. Let's take a look at some Tigers hitters' career numbers at U.S. Cellular, because those would be the matchups in which fantasy owners might have any doubts: Johnny Damon (.292/.336/.408 AVG/OBP/SLG in 63 games), Carlos Guillen (.326/.402/.506 in 48 games), Magglio Ordonez (.347/.391/.493 in 38 games as a visitor). Also keep red-hot Austin Jackson (.377 AVG in his past 13 games) active, as his base-stealing matchups are favorable.

• The Atlanta Braves are one of four perfect-10 teams, mostly because they play four games versus the Arizona Diamondbacks, who rank dead last in the majors in ERA (5.64) and 27th in WHIP (1.51), at their hitting-friendly ballpark, Chase Field. Though that three-game weekend series at Minnesota's Target Field might present challenges, those Chase Field games alone make Braves hitters worthwhile fantasy options. To wit, check out these Braves' career numbers at Chase: Yunel Escobar (.359/.405/.590 in 10 games), Troy Glaus (.270/.377/.580 in 80 games), Chipper Jones (.350/.432/.537 in 44 games).

Now, let's take a look at some Week 10 sleepers:

Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros: Disappointing as he has been this season, he's scheduled to play nothing but games at hitter-friendly ballparks, four at Colorado's Coors Field and three at New York's Yankee Stadium. Berkman is a .328/.425/.582 hitter in 33 career games at Coors, so this is a week you definitely want to keep him in there.
Reid Brignac, 2B/SS, Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays' new everyday shortstop, Brignac seems most comfortable at home, with .321/.400/.453 rates in 21 games at Tropicana Field thus far. Sure enough, the Rays play all six games at home this week.
David DeJesus, OF, Kansas City Royals: He's a .392 hitter (29-for-74) with 11 RBIs in his past 19 games, and had three extra-base hits -- two doubles and a triple -- in as many games at Minnesota's Target Field April 16-18. DeJesus is also a historical standout during interleague play, with .323/.400/.482 rates in 94 such games in his career.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pittsburgh Pirates: He's a .311 hitter (14-for-45) with two home runs in his past 15 games, a hot streak well worth exploiting. He's also a .298/.392/.481 hitter versus right-handers this season, and his Pirates are slated to see nothing but righty starters.
Aubrey Huff, 1B, San Francisco Giants: Apparently changing positions doesn't seem to bother him; he's hitting .500 (11-for-22) with two home runs in his past seven games, despite having shifted from first base to left field midway through his hot streak. And while his .316/.435/.684 career numbers in six games at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park might have been accrued in 2005-06, diminishing their relevance, it can't be denied that four games there represents a favorable schedule.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks: The further we get into the season, the closer we get to the point when LaRoche tends to register his best statistics. A seven-game week played entirely at home is quite the favorable schedule; he's a .277/.358/.506 hitter in 23 home games and a .242/.359/.417 hitter versus right-handers this season.
Jose Lopez, 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners: It's about time he started hitting, with a .444 average (12-for-27), three home runs and seven RBIs in his past seven contests. Three games at San Diego's Petco Park also shouldn't bother you; he's a .360/.377/.440 hitter in 13 career games at that venue.

Weather report

Rain becomes less of an issue the deeper we get into the summer, and historically speaking (that is, since 2001), the cities that tend to have the most trouble with the elements in the month of June are Chicago, New York and, surprisingly, Arlington, Texas. Sure enough, the Rangers face slight chances of rain during their Mariners series to open the week, including 30 percent on Wednesday; the White Sox face 30- and 40-percent chances of rain in their games versus the Tigers on Tuesday and Wednesday; and the Mets and Padres have 30-percent chances of rain during their series in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Weatherproof games: Cubs at Brewers (3, Tue-Thu); Rangers at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Braves at Diamondbacks (4, Mon-Thu); Cardinals at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Blue Jays at Rays (3, Tue-Thu); Marlins at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 10 pitcher rankings: Top 75

Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.

1. Cliff Lee (SEA) -- Mon-@TEX (Feldman), Sat-@SD (LeBlanc)
2. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Tue-@BAL (Millwood), Sun-HOU (Moehler)
3. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-@CIN (LeCure), Sun-OAK (Mazzaro)
4. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-CHC (Lilly), Sun-TEX (Lewis)
5. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Tue-SD (Richard), Sun-@BAL (Millwood)
6. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -- Tue-PIT (Karstens), Sun-@CLE (Huff)
7. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Tue-@TEX (Lewis), Sun-@SD (Richard)
8. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Thu-@CLE (Talbot)
9. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-FLA (Johnson)
10. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Wed-SD (Latos)
11. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Fri-TOR (Romero)
12. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Fri-PIT (Ohlendorf)
13. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Wed-@BAL (Tillman)
14. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-@OAK (Mazzaro), Sun-@LAD (Monasterios)
15. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Sat-@ARI (Haren)
16. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Tue-@LAD (Kuroda)
17. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Wed-@CLE (Masterson)
18. Dan Haren (ARI) -- Mon-ATL (Lowe), Sat-STL (Garcia)
19. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-OAK (Gonzalez)
20. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Wed-@LAD (Kershaw)
21. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Wed-@PHI (Halladay)
22. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Mon-SD (LeBlanc), Sat-@BOS (Matsuzaka)
23. Mat Latos (SD) -- Wed-@NYM (Santana)
24. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Fri-HOU (Myers)
25. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Wed-STL (Wainwright)
26. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Tue-SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@MIL (Gallardo)
27. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Thu-@BAL (Guthrie)
28. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Tue-TOR (Tallet), Sun-FLA (Volstad)
29. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Sat-HOU (Rodriguez)
30. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Fri-LAA (Pineiro)
31. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Thu-SF (Wellemeyer)
32. Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Tue-@MIL (Gallardo), Sun-CHW (Floyd)
33. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Thu-@MIL (Wolf)
34. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Thu-@ARI (Willis)
35. David Price (TB) -- Wed-TOR (Marcum)
36. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Thu-@OAK (Cahill)
37. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Thu-KC (Chen)
38. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Mon-SF (Zito), Sat-KC (Bannister)
39. James Shields (TB) -- Fri-FLA (Robertson)
40. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Fri-ATL (Hudson)
41. Matt Garza (TB) -- Sat-FLA (Nolasco)
42. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Thu-@COL (Chacin)
43. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Wed-@CIN (Harang)
44. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Wed-SEA (Snell)
45. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Thu-HOU (Oswalt)
46. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Wed-@MIN (Pavano)
47. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Fri-@MIN (Liriano)
48. Clayton Richard (SD) -- Tue-@NYM (Pelfrey), Sun-SEA (Hernandez)
49. John Ely (LAD) -- Sat-LAA (Kazmir)
50. Kevin Correia (SD) -- Fri-SEA (Vargas)
51. Ben Sheets (OAK) -- Mon-LAA (Kazmir), Sat-@SF (Zito)
52. Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Mon-@CLE (Carmona), Sat-PHI (Hamels)
53. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Fri-@SD (Correia)
54. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Fri-@CHC (Wells)
55. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Tue-STL (Carpenter)
56. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Wed-@TB (Price)
57. Armando Galarraga (DET) -- Tue-@CHW (Floyd), Sun-PIT (Karstens)
58. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Wed-HOU (Paulino)
59. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Wed-@MIL (Capuano)
60. Barry Zito (SF) -- Mon-@CIN (Cueto), Sat-OAK (Sheets)
61. Edwin Jackson (ARI) -- Tue-ATL (Medlen), Sun-STL (Walters)
62. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Thu-@PHI (Moyer)
63. Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Tue-KC (Davies), Sun-ATL (Medlen)
64. Jake Westbrook (CLE) -- Fri-WAS (Atilano)
65. John Danks (CHW) -- Thu-DET (Scherzer)
66. Jeff Francis (COL) -- Tue-HOU (Moehler), Sun-TOR (Tallet)
67. Jeremy Bonderman (DET) -- Sat-PIT (Eveland)
68. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Thu-@CHW (Danks)
69. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Fri-@SF (Lincecum)
70. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Mon-@ARI (Haren), Sat-@MIN (Blackburn)
71. Carlos Silva (CHC) -- Mon-@PIT (Eveland), Sat-CHW (Buehrle)
72. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-DET (Galarraga), Sun-@CHC (Lilly)
73. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Thu-@TEX (Hunter)
74. Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Thu-@WAS (Hernandez)
75. Wade Davis (TB) -- Thu-TOR (Cecil)

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Mon-BOS (Matsuzaka), Sat-WAS (Stammen)
Scott Feldman (TEX) -- Mon-SEA (Lee), Sat-@MIL (Parra)
Jason Hammel (COL) -- Mon-HOU (Rodriguez), Sat-TOR (Morrow)
Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Mon-@OAK (Sheets), Sat-@LAD (Ely)
Kris Medlen (ATL) -- Tue-@ARI (Jackson), Sun-@MIN (Slowey)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-@PHI (Kendrick), Sun-@TB (Niemann)
Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Tue-@CLE (Huff), Sun-PHI (Kendrick)

One-start sleepers:
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Sat-ATL (Lowe)
Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Thu-LAA (Santana)
Livan Hernandez (WAS) -- Thu-PIT (Maholm)
Luke Hochevar (KC) -- Fri-@CIN (Arroyo)
Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Wed-ATL (Kawakami)
Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Thu-FLA (Sanchez)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Fri-@BAL (Matusz)
Joe Saunders (LAA) -- Wed-@OAK (Braden)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Kyle Davies (KC) -- Tue-@MIN (Slowey), Sun-@CIN (LeCure)
Dana Eveland (PIT) -- Mon-CHC (Silva), Sat-@DET (Bonderman)
David Huff (CLE) -- Tue-BOS (Wakefield), Sun-WAS (Strasburg)
Jeff Karstens (PIT) -- Tue-CHC (Lilly), Sun-@DET (Galarraga)
Kyle Kendrick (PHI) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad), Sun-@BOS (Wakefield)
Wade LeBlanc (SD) -- Mon-@PHI (Hamels), Sat-SEA (Lee)
Sam LeCure (CIN) -- Tue-SF (Cain), Sun-KC (Davies)
Vin Mazzaro (OAK) -- Tue-LAA (Weaver), Sun-@SF (Cain)
Kevin Millwood (BAL) -- Tue-NYY (Hughes), Sun-NYM (Pelfrey)
Brian Moehler (HOU) -- Tue-@COL (Francis), Sun-@NYY (Hughes)
Carlos Monasterios (LAD) -- Mon-STL (Walters), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Mon-@COL (Hammel), Sat-@NYY (Vazquez)
Brian Tallet (TOR) -- Tue-@TB (Niemann), Sun-@COL (Francis)
P.J. Walters (STL) -- Mon-@LAD (Monasterios), Sun-@ARI (Jackson)

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, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

ALSO SEE