Commentary

Interleague play set to begin

Updated: May 15, 2011, 11:17 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, May 15 at 11:17 p.m. ET.

On tap: Interleague play begins on Friday with six of what Major League Baseball calls "traditional rivalries," like Washington Nationals-Baltimore Orioles (Beltway Series), Cincinnati Reds-Cleveland Indians (Ohio Cup), St. Louis Cardinals-Kansas City Royals (I-70 Series), New York Mets-New York Yankees (Subway Series), Oakland Athletics-San Francisco Giants (Battle of the Bay) and Tampa Bay Rays-Florida Marlins (Citrus Series). But surprisingly, it's a typically unappealing interleague matchup, Seattle Mariners-San Diego Padres, that features notable storylines: Fantasy ace and defending American League Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez and rookie sensation Michael Pineda will each make a start in San Diego's cavernous Petco Park.

The beginning of interleague play stacks the schedule: All 30 teams play exactly seven games apiece in Week 7, so there's no quantitative advantage for one team or another, and two-start pitchers should be easy to pinpoint. This isn't a week to "get cute;" play your best matchups.

The Philadelphia Phillies will tentatively welcome Roy Oswalt back to their rotation for a Tuesday start in St. Louis, giving him a two-start week, the second turn coming Sunday versus the Texas Rangers. Oswalt's fantasy owners face quite a dilemma; reports from Oswalt's May 12 rehabilitation start had his velocity down, not to mention he's 4-6 with a 4.54 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 12 career starts versus the Rangers, a familiar interleague foe from his Houston Astros days. Being that I generally advise fantasy owners to take a conservative approach with pitchers fresh off the DL, a somewhat similar one with Oswalt is advised.

Reminder: For those of you in weekly-transactions leagues, first pitch of Week 7 is 6:40 p.m. ET on Monday. Here are this week's other scheduled first pitches by day: Tuesday 1:05 p.m. ET, Wednesday 7:05 p.m. ET, Thursday 12:35 p.m. ET, Friday 7:05 p.m. ET, Saturday 1:07 p.m. ET, Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET.

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 7 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 gray/beige boxes.

Tristan's pitching strategies

• Go west, young fantasy owner, and load up on American League West pitching this week. Three of the four teams from that division have the most favorable matchups, the aforementioned Mariners leading the pack. Believe it or not, Mariners starters rank ninth in the majors in ERA (3.60) and 10th in WHIP (1.27) for the season, and in their past 23 games have 15 quality starts, 11 wins, a 2.92 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Even slow-starting Erik Bedard has turned things around; he has a 2.62 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his past four turns. He's worth using in AL-only and deep mixed leagues, but it's two-start pitcher Michael Pineda who is a particularly attractive option. He makes his second Week 7 start in San Diego's Petco Park and his first against the majors' weakest offense, the Minnesota Twins (3.23 runs per game, .622 OPS).

• The Los Angeles Angels play a pair of two-game series in Oakland's Overstock.com Coliseum and Seattle's Safeco Field, two of the best pitchers' parks in baseball. Obviously, you'll want to use their top two starters, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, who are both scheduled to pitch at Safeco, but it's two-start pitcher Joel Pineiro who stands out as a fine matchups play this week. He's 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in three starts since being activated from the DL, and keep in mind seven of his past 10 starts at the Coliseum were quality starts.

• While the Mariners, Angels and Oakland Athletics will all face one another for a portion of Week 7, that doesn't diminish the appeal of their pitching matchups. They could all engage in low-scoring pitchers' duels, and in the case of the Athletics' starters, their 2.66 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 17 quality starts in their past 25 games might even give them the edge over the other two teams. All five Athletics starters warrant attention across the board, even No. 5 starter Tyson Ross, who battles the light-hitting Twins at home. By the way, if you're a wary Brett Anderson owner, keep this in mind: He's 1-4 with a 6.62 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in seven career starts versus the Rangers, 19-16 with a 3.17 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 50 career starts versus everyone else, and this week he won't face the Rangers.

• You can lump the Padres, the Mariners' interleague opponent, into the mix of "low-scoring, pitchers'-duel" candidates for Week 7, as it's not unthinkable that the two teams combined might score fewer than 10 runs in their three-game interleague series. Sure, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez are their opponents, but Mat Latos and Clayton Richard are a combined 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 10 career interleague starts, not to mention have a 2.88 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 47 career starts combined at Petco Park. Keep both in there.

• Sticking with the "West Coast" theme, the Giants are the final team profiled with elite pitching matchups, a pick that might surprise you considering that their first two games of the week will be played in Colorado's Coors Field. A two-game set in Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, followed by a three-game home set versus the Athletics, however, more than balances the week's matchups. Here's another point in the Giants' favor: Their Monday starter,Tim Lincecum, is 4-2 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in nine career starts at Coors, and their Tuesday starter, Jonathan Sanchez, has won three consecutive Coors Field assignments with a 1.04 ERA in those games.

For more insight into Week 7 pitching matchups, see my rankings for the top 75 starting pitchers, as well as every two-start pitcher, 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 for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Tristan's hitting strategies

• Designated hitter implications are a top storyline of interleague play in fantasy baseball, as natural DHs either sit or have to play the field in National League parks, while some NL bench players get extra at-bats thanks to the addition of the DH in American League venues. Among the players affected this week:

Detroit Tigers: Victor Martinez can move to catcher, so Alex Avila stands to lose just as many at-bats as the two split the chores.

Athletics: Hideki Matsui stands the most to lose, though he could slide to left field, a position in which he started 17 times in 2011.

Mariners: Jack Cust is more likely than Matsui to man left field, starting ahead of freshly promoted Carlos Peguero.

Rays: Would the Rays start Johnny Damon in left field over Sam Fuld and deal with the defensive hit? Perhaps for a game or two.

Rangers: Michael Young will have to find at-bats all over the infield, but the Rangers might scatter the days off. You might scarcely notice.

Atlanta Braves: Catcher David Ross -- with Brian McCann shifting to DH -- could be the benefactor of the DH addition, but since the Braves will face only right-handed starters, Eric Hinske is actually a smarter choice.

Chicago Cubs: Tyler Colvin finally has a place to play, not that he's hitting enough to warrant fantasy consideration.

Reds: Last season, Jonny Gomes was the Reds' regular DH and he'll probably be that again. That opens up left field to a Fred Lewis/Chris Heisey platoon.

Houston Astros: Expect Carlos Lee to be the Astros' DH, opening up left field for Brian Bogusevic or Jason Michaels.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Jay Gibbons, fresh off the disabled list, would be a natural choice as the Dodgers' DH.

Mets: Jason Bay? Carlos Beltran? Whoever the choice, Fernando Martinez should finally have a place to play in this outfield.

Cardinals: The DH is an ideal spot for Allen Craig to get three guaranteed starts; or he could man right field with Lance Berkman at DH.

Nationals: Matt Stairs is a natural DH, though he might sit the Sunday game against left-handed starter Zach Britton.

• Seven home games for the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field? Could there be a more obvious set of hitting matchups to exploit? The White Sox might not have impressed you with their offensive exploits thus far, but in their first 10 games in May they've improved, averaging 4.10 runs and batting .272/.355/.440. Slow-starting Adam Dunn is finally getting his act together, with .333/.452/.667 rates in 10 May games, and so is Gordon Beckham to a lesser degree, his rates .300/.364/.500 in 10 games in the month. A schedule like this should only fuel what looks like hot streaks for both, and while Dunn obviously is beyond his buy-low stage, Beckham is the one who could really stand to restore his owners' confidence.

• As mentioned above, the Tigers' Avila and Martinez might be dividing starts during the weekend interleague series in Pittsburgh, but keep in mind each might start at least five times regardless -- in all four intraleague games and at least once apiece in Pittsburgh. That the team rates a perfect 10 makes each a worthy fantasy start, especially since Avila is a .288/.344/.563 hitter against right-handers and Martinez .353/.397/.618, and the Tigers are set to face six right-handed starters in their seven games. Jhonny Peralta is also in the midst of a hot streak; he's a .364/.417/.697 hitter in nine games in May.

• The Nationals boast only two active players with a batting average better than .235, and have an NL-worst .222 team batting average, but it's schedules like these that can often kick-start a bad offense. Sure, Orioles youngsters Jake Arrieta (Friday) and Zach Britton (Sunday) present challenges, but no other Nationals opposing starter is terribly threatening. In fact, in daily-transaction leagues, it's easy to pick and choose the strong matchups: Load up on righties -- like Ian Desmond, Michael Morse and Wilson Ramos -- against Paul Maholm (Monday), and lefties -- like Adam LaRoche and Laynce Nix -- against Charlie Morton (Tuesday) and Dillon Gee (Wednesday). And in weekly leagues, games against the Pirates, Mets and Orioles might be the perfect recipe for beginning hot streaks for struggling hitters like Danny Espinosa, LaRoche and Jayson Werth.

Weather report

Be aware that the weather report is treacherous in the northeast this week, the chances of rain 40 percent or greater in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington all the way through Thursday. There are games scheduled in each of those cities early in the week, including four in a row for the Mets to begin the week, so don't be shocked if northeastern teams suffer postponements.

One note about rainouts: Teams tend to wait out rain -- or immediately reschedule postponements as next-game doubleheaders -- during interleague play, as those opponents tend to visit one time per season. It's the Monday-Thursday games that should be of gravest concern of being wiped out, especially since all of those are two-game series with quick travel turnaround.

Weatherproof games: Rays at Blue Jays (2, Wed-Thu); Astros at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Rockies at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Padres at Diamondbacks (2, Mon-Tue); Braves at Diamondbacks (2, Wed-Thu); Twins at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Twins at Mariners (2, Mon-Tue); Angels at Mariners (2, Wed-Thu); Yankees at Rays (2, Mon-Tue).

Tristan's Week 7 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. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Tue-MIN (Baker), Sun-@SD (Stauffer)
2. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Mon-@NYM (Pelfrey), Sat-TB (Price)
3. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Mon-HOU (Myers), Sat-@LAA (Pineiro)
4. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Mon-@COL (Mortensen), Sat-OAK (Anderson)
5. David Price (TB) -- Mon-NYY (Burnett), Sat-@FLA (Johnson)
6. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Mon-@STL (Westbrook), Sat-TEX (Lewis)
7. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Mon-@LAD (Kuroda), Sat-COL (Mortensen)
8. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Fri-TEX (Wilson)
9. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Tue-PHI (Oswalt), Sun-@KC (Mazzaro)
10. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Thu-@SEA (Fister)
11. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Tue-@NYM (Niese), Sun-TB (Shields)
12. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Tue-SD (Stauffer), Sun-MIN (Baker)
13. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-COL (De La Rosa)
14. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-NYY (Nova), Sun-@FLA (Nolasco)
15. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Wed-@SEA (Vargas)
16. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Tue-@CIN (Volquez), Sun-@BOS (Lackey)
17. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Thu-@BAL (Bergesen)
18. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Fri-CHC (Davis)
19. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Mon-MIN (Liriano), Sat-@SD (Richard)
20. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Thu-@BOS (Beckett)
21. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Mon-TOR (Drabek), Sat-@PIT (Maholm)
22. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Tue-SF (Sanchez), Sun-@MIL (Wolf)
23. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Fri-@SF (Vogelsong)
24. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Mon-MIL (Marcum), Sat-@CHW (Buehrle)
25. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Wed-SF (Cain)
26. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Tue-@COL (Jimenez), Sun-OAK (Gonzalez)
27. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Tue-LAA (Chatwood), Sun-@SF (Sanchez)
28. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Mon-@CHW (Jackson), Sat-@PHI (Lee)
29. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Tue-@ATL (Lowe), Sun-@TOR (Litsch)
30. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- Fri-COL (Hammel)
31. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Tue-HOU (Rodriguez), Sun-@LAA (Chatwood)
32. Matt Cain (SF) -- Wed-@LAD (Kershaw)
33. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Mon-LAA (Pineiro), Sat-@SF (Lincecum)
34. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Thu-SF (Bumgarner)
35. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Fri-@LAA (Santana)
36. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Mon-@TB (Price), Sat-NYM (Pelfrey)
37. Mat Latos (SD) -- Fri-SEA (Bedard)
38. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Tue-@ARI (Hudson), Sun-SEA (Hernandez)
39. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Fri-MIN (Duensing)
40. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Fri-HOU (Rodriguez)
41. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Thu-CHC (Coleman)
42. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Tue-@SEA (Hernandez), Sun-@ARI (Hudson)
43. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Thu-@PHI (Blanton)
44. Zach Britton (BAL) -- Tue-@BOS (Lackey), Sun-WAS (Zimmermann)
45. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Mon-CHC (Zambrano), Sat-@CLE (Tomlin)
46. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Thu-DET (Verlander)
47. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Wed-@SD (Moseley)
48. Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Fri-@SD (Latos)
49. Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- Mon-@OAK (Anderson), Sat-ATL (Hanson)
50. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Fri-@KC (Francis)
51. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Thu-@LAD (Billingsley)
52. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-TOR (Litsch), Sun-@PIT (Morton)
53. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Fri-@PHI (Halladay)
54. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Tue-PIT (Morton), Sun-@BAL (Britton)
55. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Wed-@KC (O'Sullivan)
56. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Mon-@CIN (Bailey), Sat-@BOS (Matsuzaka)
57. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Fri-LAD (Lilly)
58. Tom Gorzelanny (WAS) -- Wed-@NYM (Gee)
59. Edwin Jackson (CHW) -- Mon-TEX (Lewis), Sun-LAD (Garland)
60. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Wed-HOU (Norris)
61. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Tue-@STL (Garcia), Sun-TEX (Harrison)
62. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Mon-@SEA (Pineda), Sat-@ARI (Galarraga)
63. Philip Humber (CHW) -- Thu-CLE (Carmona)
64. Jon Garland (LAD) -- Tue-MIL (Wolf), Sun-@CHW (Jackson)
65. Jake Arrieta (BAL) -- Fri-WAS (Marquis)
66. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Thu-@ARI (Collmenter)
67. Josh Tomlin (CLE) -- Mon-@KC (Davies), Sat-CIN (Bailey)
68. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Fri-ATL (Hudson)
69. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Wed-@PHI (Hamels)
70. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Thu-PIT (Karstens)
71. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Wed-LAA (Weaver)
72. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Fri-@CHW (Floyd)
73. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Wed-PIT (McDonald)
74. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Wed-@STL (Lohse)
75. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Thu-@CHW (Humber)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Tyler Chatwood (LAA) -- Tue-@OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-ATL (Lowe)
Armando Galarraga (ARI) -- Mon-SD (Richard), Sat-MIN (Liriano)
John Lackey (BOS) -- Tue-BAL (Britton), Sun-CHC (Garza)
John Lannan (WAS) -- Mon-PIT (Maholm), Sat-@BAL (Tillman)
Jesse Litsch (TOR) -- Tue-@DET (Porcello), Sun-HOU (Rodriguez)
Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Tue-@WAS (Zimmermann), Sun-DET (Porcello)
Brett Myers (HOU) -- Mon-@ATL (Hanson), Sat-@TOR (Drabek)
Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Mon-FLA (Johnson), Sat-@NYY (Burnett)
Clayton Richard (SD) -- Mon-@ARI (Galarraga), Sat-SEA (Pineda)
Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Tue-CHC (Garza), Sun-@CLE (Carrasco)
Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Mon-PHI (Lee), Sat-@KC (Davies)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Tue-@KC (Mazzaro), Sun-CIN (Volquez)
Kyle Davies (KC) -- Mon-CLE (Tomlin), Sat-STL (Westbrook)
Kyle Drabek (TOR) -- Mon-@DET (Scherzer), Sat-HOU (Myers)
Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Tue-@CHW (Danks), Sun-@PHI (Oswalt)
Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Mon-@WAS (Lannan), Sat-DET (Scherzer)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) -- Mon-BAL (Tillman), Sat-CHC (Zambrano)
Vin Mazzaro (KC) -- Tue-CLE (Carrasco), Sun-STL (Garcia)
Clayton Mortensen (COL) -- Mon-SF (Lincecum), Sat-@MIL (Marcum)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-FLA (Nolasco), Sun-@NYY (Nova)
Ivan Nova (NYY) -- Tue-@TB (Shields), Sun-NYM (Niese)
Chris Tillman (BAL) -- Mon-@BOS (Matsuzaka), Sat-WAS (Lannan)
Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Tue-@LAD (Garland), Sun-COL (Jimenez)

One-start sleepers:
Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Sat-LAD (Kuroda)
Bartolo Colon (NYY) -- Wed-@BAL (Guthrie)
R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Thu-WAS (Hernandez)
Jason Hammel (COL) -- Fri-@MIL (Greinke)
Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -- Wed-MIN (Pavano)
Kyle McClellan (STL) -- Thu-HOU (Happ)
Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Thu-@SD (Harang)
Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Wed-CLE (Masterson)
Brad Penny (DET) -- Fri-@PIT (Correia)
Tyson Ross (OAK) -- Thu-MIN (Blackburn)
Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Fri-OAK (Cahill)

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.

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