Commentary

Interleague play returns

Updated: June 12, 2011, 9:35 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, June 12 at 9:35 a.m. ET.

On tap: It's baaaaaaaaaaaack. By that we're referring to interleague play, which begins Friday, June 17 (fantasy's Week 11), and extends through Sunday, July 3 (the final day of Week 13).

Fantasy Forecaster

Pitching battles are largely the storyline of the interleague weekend: Philadelphia Phillies at Seattle Mariners might appear a mismatch at first glance, but consider that the Mariners will throw Michael Pineda (Friday) and Felix Hernandez (Saturday) in that series, while the Phillies will counter with Roy Oswalt (Friday) and Cole Hamels (Sunday), meaning it could be a low-scoring series entirely up for grabs. Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who ranks second in the majors (through June 9) in WHIP (0.94), wins (7) and strikeouts (93), concludes his two-start week with an often-feared matchup at Colorado's Coors Field on Sunday. Minnesota Twins lefty Francisco Liriano, who threw five innings of one-run (unearned), seven-strikeout baseball in his return start from the disabled list on June 7, gets a comfy-cozy Saturday matchup versus the light-hitting San Diego Padres. And San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum gets another start against the across-the-bay rival Oakland Athletics, significant in that he has defeated them in five consecutive starts, totaling 44 strikeouts with a 0.64 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in those outings.

Among other notable storylines: Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford battles his ex-teammates in Tampa Bay from Tuesday through Thursday, the first time he has faced the Tampa Bay Rays on the road since leaving as a free agent this past winter. It's good timing; he's a .355/.394/.726 hitter in his past 16 games. In that same series, Rays ace David Price will try on Thursday to extend a five-game quality start streak versus the Red Sox; he has a 4-1 record, 2.62 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in those starts. The Houston Astros welcome Wandy Rodriguez back to their rotation Monday, setting him up for a two-start week (Monday versus Atlanta Braves, Saturday at Los Angeles Dodgers). The St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, get Kyle McClellan back in their rotation Wednesday at Washington's Nationals Park.

Reminder: For those of you in weekly-transactions leagues, first pitch of Week 11 is 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday. Here are this week's other scheduled first pitches by day: Tuesday 7:05 p.m. ET, Wednesday 1:05 p.m. ET, Thursday 12:37 p.m. ET, Friday 2:20 p.m. ET, Saturday 1:05 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 11 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

• I'll write it week after week until I'm blue in the face: You need to take the Mariners' rotation -- and their closer, for that matter -- seriously in every fantasy league. Mariners starters have 19 quality starts in their past 26 tries, with a 2.72 ERA and 1.06 WHIP during that span, while closer Brandon League has eight saves, 10 shutout innings and a 0.50 WHIP in his past 10 appearances. Safeco Field games always play right into the hands of the pitchers, and the opposing Los Angeles Angels and Phillies both rank among the bottom half in baseball in runs scored and OPS. Incidentally, the last time the Mariners and Angels battled, in a two-game series May 18-19, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister, who are scheduled to pitch in this series as well, combined for 15 innings of one-run, 10-hit baseball. Two-start pitcher Vargas is the week's standout: He has a 1.71 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in six starts against the Angels since the beginning of last season.

• If you're going to trust Coors Field matchups, surely the ones you want to exploit include three games against the light-hitting Padres, who rank last in the majors in runs per game (3.47) and next-to-last in home runs (36) and OPS (.637). The Colorado Rockies will throw Aaron Cook (Monday), who is 14-4 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 26 career games (24 starts) versus the Padres, and Jhoulys Chacin (Wednesday), who has six quality starts and an 8.13 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio in his past eight turns, in two of those three games. Even Juan Nicasio, who has two quality starts in his first three big league turns, warrants a look in NL-only formats. As for the weekend series against the Tigers, keep in mind the Rockies have lined up Jason Hammel (Friday), 4-1 with a 3.13 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in six interleague starts from 2009 to 2010, and Ubaldo Jimenez (Saturday), who has back-to-back quality starts of a 1.13 ERA and 15 K's compared to zero walks, for two of those three.

• If there's a concern regarding Wandy Rodriguez during his return to the Astros' rotation this week, it should be workload rather than matchup. He's returning after throwing 60 pitches in a June 5 bullpen session, then another 56 in a Double-A rehabilitation outing on June 8, meaning the prospects of a 100-pitch effort Monday are slim. I typically advise fantasy owners to avoid pitchers fresh off the DL and Rodriguez is no different; at the same time, his matchups warrant a look if you need him in an NL-only league. After all, he has a 2.03 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his past seven starts versus the Braves, and a 1.48 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in his four career starts at Dodger Stadium. Matchups for the remainder of the Astros' starters are also favorable; two-start pitcher Bud Norris is especially appealing considering he has posted quality starts against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Dodgers this season already.

• The Milwaukee Brewers face a somewhat treacherous week, concluding with a three-game series against the hot-hitting Red Sox in Boston. Shaun Marcum's matchup Friday at Fenway Park is particularly troublesome; he has a 5.28 ERA in his past eight starts against the Red Sox. Not that you're going to sit Marcum, Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo in most leagues, but temper your expectations for all three, especially Gallardo, who is coming off a shaky outing and had a 5.01 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in four career starts at Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Also favorable: Athletics, Dodgers, Phillies, Twins
Also unfavorable: New York Yankees, Texas Rangers

For more insight into Week 11 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

• The designated hitter is always a prominent storyline for fantasy during interleague play, and for 16 of the 30 big league teams this week, half of their schedule will be interleague contests. Here's a rundown of the players who should be adversely affected by the elimination of the DH in National League parks:

Baltimore Orioles (@WAS-3): Would the Orioles play Vladimir Guerrero in the field? Probably not. He's a poor defender, Nick Markakis mans right field and the Orioles are scheduled to face only right-handed starters in this series.

Chicago White Sox (@ARI-3): Slumping Adam Dunn will probably take a cozy seat on the bench for three more games.

Tigers (@COL-3): Catchers Alex Avila and Victor Martinez have been rotating behind the plate and at DH; now they'll only do so at catcher.

Kansas City Royals (@STL-3): Billy Butler probably suffers most, as left-handed Eric Hosmer mans first base. Butler could sneak in a start at Hosmer's expense Sunday, when the Cardinals are slated to pitch lefty Jaime Garcia.

Angels (@NYM-3): Vernon Wells' healthy return clutters the outfield, meaning Bobby Abreu likely sits against the Mets' two lefty starters in the series.

Yankees (@CHC-3): Sit Jorge Posada, as he's unlikely to start at first base ahead of Mark Teixeira, and the Yankees face three lefties during Week 11 besides.

Rangers (@ATL-3): The Rangers could get creative and shift Josh Hamilton to center field, in which case Endy Chavez would be most impacted.

Toronto Blue Jays (@CIN-3): Adam Lind and Juan Rivera have been sharing time at first base, but keep in mind the Reds will pitch three right-handers. Lind might score all of those starts at first base.

Conversely, the following players could receive additional at-bats this week thanks to the addition of the DH in American League parks:

Florida Marlins (@TB-3): Greg Dobbs might shift to DH, clearing up third base for a Emilio Bonifacio-Wes Helms platoon.

Brewers (@BOS-3): Finally, a way for the Brewers to get Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan into the lineup at the same time!

Phillies (@SEA-3): DH will probably be a "day off" arrangement for Phillies veterans such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, as Wilson Valdez could fill in for the infielders. Where's John Mayberry Jr. when you need him?

Pirates (@CLE-3): Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones could both score spots in the lineup, or the Pirates might opt for Xavier Paul over Diaz since they'll face three righty starters.

Padres (@MIN-3): Jorge Cantu would be a natural DH now that Anthony Rizzo is up, or the Padres could just rotate bench players in the spot.

Giants (@OAK-3): If Pablo Sandoval returns this week as expected, he could be eased back in as a DH, leaving a few more at-bats at third base for Miguel Tejada.

• It's not merely the Cardinals' three games against the Royals and their 29th-ranked 4.71 team ERA that boosts their weekly rating, though that helps. It's the individual starters they're scheduled to face: Livan Hernandez (Wednesday), 1-2 with a 7.13 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in his past three starts against the Cardinals, and John Lannan (Thursday), who has a 2.52 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in six career games against them, are the most accomplished starters they'll battle all week. Four of the starters the Cardinals are scheduled to face are right-handed -- and five could be if rehabbing Kyle Davies takes Danny Duffy's spot on Sunday -- and the Cardinals are loaded with hitters with good numbers against righties: Lance Berkman (.348/.465/.659), Allen Craig (.348/.425/.478), Jon Jay (.304/.355/.464) and Yadier Molina (.324/.360/.439). Oh, plus some dude named Albert Pujols, who is a .344/.447/.906 hitter overall in eight games in June.

• Eight games, 'nuff said, as the Marlins lead the way in terms of total games, and with the total-games lead comes the best potential for "counting numbers" (runs, RBIs, home runs). Four of those games will be played at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, and while tough pitchers named Hamels, Halladay and Lee are the Marlins' scheduled opponents, that's still a favorable venue for hitting numbers. Logan Morrison is a .421/.556/.737 hitter in six career games there, Gaby Sanchez .275/.310/.450 in 11 games, Mike Stanton .324/.343/.647 in eight games and Chris Coghlan .355/.420/.532 in 15 games. As for the weekend series at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, while Morrison has never played a game there, the other three have numbers at that venue comparable to their Philly numbers.

• The Blue Jays just scored 18 runs in a three-game series at Baltimore's Oriole Park from June 3-5, and in the rematch in Toronto they stack up favorably yet again. Since the beginning of last season, here are the Blue Jays' individual numbers against the division-rival Orioles: Jose Bautista .276/.404/.737 in 21 games, Rajai Davis .364/.333/.545 plus three steals in three games, Yunel Escobar .333/.375/.467 in 14 games, Adam Lind .312/.354/.532 in 20. As for the weekend interleague series at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, the Reds' three scheduled starters, Mike Leake (Friday), Edinson Volquez (Saturday) and Bronson Arroyo (Sunday) are a combined 5-7 with a 5.83 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 20 games (17 starts) combined since May 1.

Also favorable: Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians
Also unfavorable: Royals, Mariners

Weather report

Weatherproof games: Braves at Astros (1, Mon); Pirates at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Orioles at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Giants at Diamondbacks (3, Tue-Thu); White Sox at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Angels at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Phillies at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun); Red Sox at Rays (3, Tue-Thu); Marlins at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 11 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. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad), Sun-@SEA (Vargas)
2. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-TEX (Ogando), Sun-@CHC (Wells)
3. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-CLE (Masterson), Sun-@COL (Cook)
4. Matt Cain (SF) -- Tue-@ARI (Collmenter), Sun-@OAK (Outman)
5. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Wed-FLA, Gm. 2 (TBD)
6. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-@SEA (Fister)
7. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-@OAK (Gonzalez)
8. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Sat-PHI (TBD)
9. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Tue-@CHC (Wells), Sun-@BOS (Wakefield)
10. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Thu-FLA (Vazquez)
11. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Mon-@SEA (Vargas), Sun-@NYM (Niese)
12. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-CIN (Cueto)
13. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Tue-NYM (Niese), Sun-TEX (Ogando)
14. David Price (TB) -- Thu-BOS (Buchholz)
15. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Tue-@NYY (Sabathia), Sun-@ATL (Jurrjens)
16. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Fri-TEX (Lewis)
17. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Tue-@WAS (Maya), Sun-KC (Duffy)
18. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Sat-DET (Coke)
19. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- Thu-@CHC (Garza)
20. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Sat-MIL (Wolf)
21. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Mon-ARI (Duke), Sat-@TB (TBD)
22. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Fri-KC (Paulino)
23. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Fri-PHI (Oswalt)
24. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Wed-SD (Latos)
25. Bud Norris (HOU) -- Tue-PIT (Karstens), Sun-@LAD (Kuroda)
26. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Wed-@PHI, Gm. 1 (Kendrick)
27. Roy Oswalt (PHI) -- Fri-@SEA (Pineda)
28. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Mon-CIN (Arroyo), Sun-HOU (Norris)
29. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Fri-CHW (Danks)
30. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Wed-@TB (Hellickson)
31. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Sat-@OAK (Moscoso)
32. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Tue-@MIN (Pavano), Sun-@ARI (Collmenter)
33. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Fri-HOU (Myers)
34. Erik Bedard (SEA) -- Wed-LAA (Santana)
35. Mat Latos (SD) -- Wed-@COL (Chacin)
36. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Wed-BOS (Beckett)
37. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Thu-@NYY (TBD)
38. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Thu-SF (Vogelsong)
39. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Mon-LAA (Haren), Sun-PHI (Hamels)
40. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Fri-SD (Richard)
41. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Fri-@BOS (Lackey)
42. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Mon-MIL (Wolf), Sat-NYY (Burnett)
43. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Sat-BAL (Jakubauskas)
44. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Fri-SF (Lincecum)
45. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-@LAD (Kershaw)
46. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Wed-NYM (Gee)
47. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Wed-CIN (Wood)
48. James Shields (TB) -- Tue-BOS (Wakefield), Sun-FLA (Volstad)
49. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Mon-@HOU (Rodriguez), Sat-TEX (Harrison)
50. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Wed-MIL (Narveson)
51. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Sat-@MIN (Liriano)
52. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Thu-@ARI (Kennedy)
53. Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Tue-SF (Cain), Sun-CHW (Floyd)
54. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Sat-SD (Stauffer)
55. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Wed-@ARI (Saunders)
56. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Wed-@SEA (Bedard)
57. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Fri-@CIN (Leake)
58. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-KC (Hochevar)
59. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Thu-MIL (Greinke)
60. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Mon-CLE (Carrasco), Sat-@CHC (Dempster)
61. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Wed-BAL (Arrieta)
62. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Tue-CHW (Floyd), Sun-SD (Moseley)
63. Dillon Gee (NYM) -- Wed-@ATL (Hudson)
64. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- Thu-@TB (Price)
65. Brian Matusz (BAL) -- Fri-@WAS (Marquis)
66. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Fri-@ATL (Hanson)
67. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-@DET (Verlander), Sun-PIT (Karstens)
68. Kyle Lohse (STL) -- Thu-@WAS (Lannan)
69. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Mon-@PIT (Maholm), Sat-LAA (Chatwood)
70. Philip Humber (CHW) -- Sat-@ARI (Duke)
71. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Fri-@LAD (Lilly)
72. Edwin Jackson (CHW) -- Thu-@MIN (Duensing)
73. Kevin Correia (PIT) -- Fri-@CLE (Tomlin)
74. Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Wed-@HOU (Happ)
75. Doug Fister (SEA) -- Tue-LAA (Weaver)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Mon-@LAD (Kuroda), Sun-TOR (Villanueva)
Zach Britton (BAL) -- Tue-@TOR (Villanueva), Sun-@WAS (Maya)
Carlos Carrasco (CLE) -- Mon-@NYY (Burnett), Sat-PIT (Maholm)
Paul Maholm (PIT) -- Mon-NYM (Pelfrey), Sat-@CLE (Carrasco)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-@ATL (Jurrjens), Sun-LAA (Haren)
Josh Outman (OAK) -- Tue-KC (Duffy), Sun-SF (Cain)
Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Mon-ATL (Lowe), Sat-@LAD (De La Rosa)
Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Tue-@TB (Shields), Sun-MIL (Gallardo)
Randy Wells (CHC) -- Tue-MIL (Gallardo), Sun-NYY (Sabathia)
Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Mon-@CHC (Dempster), Sat-@BOS (Lester)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Phil Coke (DET) -- Mon-TB (Cobb), Sat-@COL (Jimenez)
Aaron Cook (COL) -- Mon-SD (Moseley), Sun-DET (Verlander)
Danny Duffy (KC) -- Tue-@OAK (Outman), Sun-@STL (Garcia)
Zach Duke (ARI) -- Mon-@FLA (Nolasco), Sat-CHW (Humber)
Jeff Karstens (PIT) -- Tue-@HOU (Norris), Sun-@CLE (Masterson)
Yunesky Maya (WAS) -- Tue-STL (Garcia), Sun-BAL (Britton)
Dustin Moseley (SD) -- Mon-@COL (Cook), Sun-@MIN (Pavano)
Carlos Villanueva (TOR) -- Tue-BAL (Britton), Sun-@CIN (Arroyo)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-@PHI (Hamels), Sun-@TB (Shields)

One-start sleepers:
Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Wed-@MIN (Blackburn)
Tyler Chatwood (LAA) -- Sat-@NYM (Pelfrey)
J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Wed-PIT (Morton)
Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Sat-@ATL (Lowe)
Mike Minor (ATL) -- Thu-NYM (Dickey)
Josh Tomlin (CLE) -- Fri-PIT (Correia)
Edinson Volquez (CIN) -- Sat-TOR (Drabek)

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