Is it that time already? Yessir, interleague play begins next weekend.
But just next weekend. Every team except the Pirates and Cubs play a series against an opposite-league opponent before retreating back to their respective leagues the following week.
Personally, I love interleague play. I won't kick into an argument with the baseball purists here, but I like it when my team plays somebody I don't normally get to see regularly. I get to see different players at the park, I get to see interesting hitter-pitcher duels, I get to see AL pitchers hit and NL teams use DHs but more than anything, I like the challenge it creates for fantasy owners, who must decide whose values increase and decrease based solely on the schedule.
I mentioned in Wednesday's Hit Parade that I would examine how teams will use their DH spots, or lack thereof, in my next Hit Parade. But the powers that be gave me a virtual slap on the back of my head and reminded me that "next week" would be too late for weekly-lineup owners who have Monday deadlines. Good point there. So here I am.
But if there's one thing to take from this column, it would be this: In the standard league, this little interleague, uh, interlude should be regarded for lineup purposes only, not add/drops (or trades, for that matter). This is just a little tease, one small three-game series combined with a standard "intraleague" series in the same week. By no means should you, say, cut Frank Thomas because he won't play next weekend, and then hope you can get him back next weekend. No, no, no. Bench Big Frank, but don't cut him (unless you were planning to anyway). Just take interleague play into account when you're determining your lineups, nothing more than that.
I'll be diligent in preparing you for interleague play in terms of the lineups all season. When interleague play is heavy, I'll take a close look at the individual players affected. But this week, all that's needed is a glance at what I expect each visiting team to do with their DH spots. A lot of it is simple speculation, but at least it gets you thinking about the players who might be affected in a positive or negative way.
NL teams in AL parks
Houston (at Texas): Who knows what manager Cecil Cooper will do here; the Astros' bench doesn't exactly have any start-worthy players. Except for maybe Mark Loretta, who I think will get at least one start. Darin Erstad also is likely to get a start against the Rangers' righty-heavy staff. Not that either of those guys interests me much, though.
LA Dodgers (at LA Angels): Finally, a series in which we don't have to worry about which of the Dodgers' four capable outfielders will start in their three outfield spots. They now have another slot, and I predict manager Joe Torre will take full advantage of that and start all four outfielders each of the three games.
San Diego (at Seattle): The Padres lack capable depth even without the DH slot, so it's not like there's much to choose from here. But I think Scott Hairston starts at DH for two of the games, specifically the ones in which the Pads are slated to face lefties Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard.
Washington (at Baltimore): If only Dmitri Young (back) -- a DH playing in the National League if there ever was one -- were available. Well, he is at extended spring training getting some work, but chances are he won't be ready. So I think Aaron Boone gets at least two starts in this series. He has been hitting decently of late, and the Orioles are slated to throw two lefties, which helps Boone's case.
AL teams in NL parks
Chicago White Sox (at San Francisco): There once was a time Jim Thome would don the leather; I think it was back in the 20th century. Seriously, though, the Sox announced in June 2007 that they would try Jim Thome at first base for at least two games during a six-game road trip to NL parks. They played him one game there, and then scrapped the idea. It was the only game he played there all season. I'd be willing to bet he doesn't start there even once next weekend.
Cleveland (at Cincinnati): Tougher call here than it first appears. Travis Hafner can play first base (he played there in 11 games in 2007), the Reds likely will throw three righties, and Great American Ball Park is a good place to hit. Therefore, I see Pronk getting at least one start, and maybe two, over Ryan Garko at first base. Even though he's struggling, I think he's safe to start in fantasy, especially considering the ballpark and matchup.
Oakland (at Atlanta): Big Frank becomes a "pinch hitter extraordinaire."
Tampa Bay (at St. Louis): Eric Hinske has been starting regularly at DH, but I think he starts in the outfield against the Cardinals' all-righty starting rotation and preserves his value. It's Jonny Gomes and Gabe Gross who lose out here.
Toronto (at Philadelphia): Right now the Blue Jays split left field and DH between Matt Stairs, Shannon Stewart. Now they'd just have left field. But I think Stairs is safe. The Jays are set to face three right-handed starters, giving him the nod over Stewart.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.