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Interleague weekend

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The first set of interleague series were a study in contrast. In Oakland and on the South Side of Chicago, fans were treated to offensive explosions, whereas fans in Seattle and Minnesota got to see some tremendous pitching performances. And let's not forget the 17-inning marathon in Anaheim!

We head into the first weekend of interleague play with some intriguing matchups on the books. National League managers have the luxury of using the DH for the weekend, allowing for a number of hitters to steal some at-bats and for the pitchers to come inside without fear of retribution.

Let's take a quick run through a few of the matchups, starting with the lone NL series on the docket.

Houston Astros at Milwaukee Brewers
In the only matchup not crossing leagues, Houston heads to Milwaukee. Jeff Kent rides a 24-game hitting streak into the series and has reclaimed his place as the elite second baseman in the majors. One eye-popping stat on this squad is that Craig Biggio trails Kent and Jeff Bagwell by only one HR coming into this weekend's series.

The Brewers continue to impress, hanging with the pack in the NL Central. Their pitching staff has compiled a sub-4.00 ERA, led by staff ace Ben Sheets, who is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. Lyle Overbay (43 RBIs) and Scott Podsednik (27 steals) get all of the attention in the Brewers' offense, but Keith Ginter is an intriguing factor on the waiver wire. He offers the flexibility of playing both second and third base, and he provides some pop (his 8 HRs lead the Brewers).

Player to watch: Adam Everett quietly has put together a nice season for the Astros. The .288 batting average and three bombs aren't awe inspiring, but his seven steals warrant consideration for spot starts, especially in head-to-head leagues.

Florida Marlins at Detroit Tigers
Ivan Rodriguez welcomes his former teammates to Motown this weekend. The Tigers are tied with the White Sox for the lead in team batting average (.284), but their team ERA of 4.89 does them in. One surprise for the Tigers has been the play of Brandon Inge, posting solid power numbers and a .284 batting average while playing the odd combination of catcher and centerfield. Outfielder Alex Sanchez may only be a two-tool player (13 steals and .344 batting average), but he's worth a look-see in your outfield. His horrible success ratio on steals won't hurt you.

Florida rides high on the strength of Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera and its young pitching staff. The Marlins found a gem in the rejuvenated Armando Benitez and Carl Pavano has complemented Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett nicely. However, they're still looking to solidify the back end of the rotation. A.J. Burnett has struggled in his first two outings after returning from surgery, but Tommy Phelps pitched well in two of his three starts, with the one disastrous outing a result of back-to-back outings against Cincinnati. He's one to keep an eye on.

Player to watch: Fantasy owners looking for a spot start this weekend can call on Gary Knotts of the Tigers. He bewildered the Twins in his last start and has been effective since cracking the rotation (3-1, 2.89 ERA).

Los Angeles Dodgers at Boston Red Sox
Nomar Garciaparra returned on Wednesday night and hit the ball solidly in his two at-bats. A nice play in left field by Terrence Long robbed him of an extra base hit and a couple of RBIs. The return of Nomar does limit the opportunities for the trio of Pokey Reese, Kevin Youkilis and Mark Bellhorn. All were effective subs, but the platoon system that will come into effect means you'll need to look elsewhere for help (Casey Blake of Cleveland and Scott Spiezio of Seattle are two possible substitutes).

Beyond Adrian Beltre and Paul Lo Duca, the Dodgers are still waiting for someone to pick up a bat. The experiment at first base for Shawn Green has him lost at the plate, providing neither pop nor average. The acquisition of Milton Bradley appeared to be brilliant out of the gate, but the stigma of being a clubhouse cancer has made its way to the West Coast. All would be forgiven in La-La Land if he was mashing, but seven home runs and one stolen base isn't getting it done. Like Alex Sanchez of the Tigers, Dave Roberts gets overlooked as a two-tool player, but those 18 steals are mighty enticing.

Player to watch: After a couple rough outings to start the season, Jeff Weaver has been solid for the Dodgers. He's striking hitters out again and is showing the tenacity that made him a highly touted prospect for Detroit.

San Diego Padres at New York Yankees
It was only a matter of time before the Yankees' bats awakened. First Alex Rodriguez got rolling, and now Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter have found the stroke. The offense was never really in doubt; it was always more a question of the pitching staff. The anchors of Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown have been outstanding, posting a total of 21 wins between them. With Brown potentially hitting the DL, the other pitchers on the staff must step up. Jose Contreras has been dreadful, and Jon Lieber's feel good return has been bumpy of late. With that said, he makes for a tremendous spot start against San Diego (ranked 22nd in runs scored).

San Diego hopes to get a healthy Ryan Klesko back into the lineup soon to boost the anemic run production mentioned above. Sean Burroughs has been a nice surprise in the leadoff spot and Brian Giles and Phil Nevin are finally hitting. But without an infusion of power from Jay Payton (a pathetic 3 HRs), the fantasy potential for all of these guys is limited.

You find your value on the mound with the Padres. Jake Peavy is long gone in most leagues, but fantasy owners remain skittish about Brian Lawrence, despite an 8-3 record. He's a must add to your roster.

Player to watch:David Wells dominates as a visiting pitcher in Yankee Stadium. Most guys get rattled coming into the Bronx, but Wells is at home there, posting a 12-3 lifetime mark as a visitor. If you include his two stints with the Yanks, he's 44-18 lifetime at Yankee Stadium. The venerable southpaw has had only one bad start this season and makes for a solid spot starter over the weekend.

Atlanta Braves at Chicago White Sox
Playing in AL parks has allowed Bobby Cox to get Chipper Jones' bat back into the lineup with minimal risk. This affords him the luxury of getting the still potent Julio Franco at-bats. Jones will eventually start seeing some time at first base, which will give fantasy owners some flexibility with him. Johnny Estrada, Andruw Jones and J.D. Drew have been the catalysts for what little offense has been generated by Atlanta this season.

Fantasy owners who bet the farm early on John Smoltz need to find help in a hurry. His nine saves in the first two months of the season trail the field of full-time closers. Hit the waiver wire to see if LaTroy Hawkins or Chad Cordero remains available.

The White Sox bats are still smoking from the major power production put up against Philadelphia. The offense is clicking, with a barrage of double-digit run games in the last several weeks. Paul Konerko is a guy still sitting on the waiver wire in a number of leagues. His slow start is long gone and his 14 HR and 38 RBIs are worth a spot on your roster. A rising star for the Sox is catcher Miguel Olivo. He was an intriguing selection earlier in the season for the handful of steals to be had, but now he's starting to find the stroke as well. A season of 15 HRs and 15 steals would be a nice bonus.

The Sox staff is anchored by Esteban Loaiza and Mark Buehrle. Scott Schoenweis and Jon Garland have been effective and much has been made about the fifth starter spot in the rotation and the bullpen. Damaso Marte is likely already taken in most leagues, but the dark horse in the race to the closer role is Shingo Takatsu. If you have an extra bench position at your disposal, you may be well served by adding Takatsu now instead of waiting for the next Billy Koch meltdown.

Player to watch:The fifth starter, Neal Cotts. The fifth starter is due to get one of these big offensive explosions in Chicago. Yes, this spot in the rotation has been ineffective to date (combined ERA of 10.00). But they're due for a good outing, and Cotts will be the man to do it against the Braves.

Pittsburgh Pirates at Oakland Athletics
The A's bats have awakened with the visit of the Cincinnati Reds, pounding out double-digit runs in all three victories. Rookie Bobby Crosby quietly raised his batting average above .250 for the first time all season with a solid week of play against Cincinnati and Toronto. He had already been hitting for power, but it seems that the rest of his game is catching up. Teammate Scott Hatteberg is mashing anything put over the plate. Both make great plays right now, with Hatteberg's value up tremendously due to the rash of injuries at first base (Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi).

The Pirates are coming off a rough stint in Texas, and they've only played one game. After a Thursday double-header (originally a travel day), they'll have the displeasure of facing Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in this series. Runs have been tough to come by in recent series for the Pirates, but the Wilsons (Jack and Craig) keep right on scalding the ball. One possible fantasy pickup of note is red-hot catcher Jason Kendall, who's back on the radar thanks to a long hitting streak and his six stolen bases.

Player to watch: Catcher Damian Miller put up 12 RBIs in the three-game series with four extra-base hits. Fantasy owners in search of a short-term fix behind the plate should ride the hot hand, as Oakland faces the scuffling Kris Benson, Ryan Vogelsong and Kip Wells this weekend.

There's a quick look at the goings on for the coming weekend. Next week, interleague play hits full stride with the first round of rivalry series (Chicago-Chicago, New York-New York, you get the idea). I'll be back with a road report from Colorado as the Red Sox hit town and more of your letters.

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