The final day of April will feature season debuts for three very noteworthy fantasy baseball options, as Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler and Philadelphia Phillies closer Brad Lidge are all finally healthy enough to play a meaningful game. My take is that all three are going to be instantly successful and I wouldn't have any concerns about activating them in a fantasy league.
Lee faces Kinsler's Rangers, and while Lee does have an awful career ERA against the Rangers of 7.09 in eight starts (though he is 5-3), I don't buy that as a meaningful trend. Lee also has a career ERA of 3.97, but don't we expect much better now? He's a different pitcher. With some pitchers I wait a start or two to see how they fare, but that's not the case with Lee, debuting for a new team in a giant ballpark.
Kinsler warrants instant activation as well. For one, he's scheduled to hit fifth in the lineup, behind Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero, so one would assume there will be RBI chances. Kinsler rakes against southpaws, and is 7-for-13 with five RBIs lifetime against Lee. Saturday against Felix Hernandez should be tougher, but Doug Fister on Sunday isn't particularly scary. Activate Kinsler.
As for Lidge, if there's a save opportunity Friday night against the New York Mets, he likely will close the game, because Ryan Madson, who has not thrived as the closer this year or last, was placed on the 15-day DL with a broken toe. Plus, by all accounts Lidge has pitched well over the past week. The Phillies have to face Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana on Saturday and Sunday, so if there's any game in which the Phillies would appear most likely for a save chance, I'd argue it's Friday against Jonathon Niese and his 1.86 WHIP.
Of course, there are always plenty of other things to watch in a given fantasy baseball weekend. Here are other things on my mind.
Justin time? The health of Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau will be watched by many. Morneau has missed a few games with back stiffness, and the Twins should enjoy the Cleveland Indians pitching staff this weekend. I don't expect a DL stint for Morneau, but he could miss more games, so expect a lot of Jim Thome. For the most part, that's a good thing, but bad if you own Delmon Young.
Center of attention: Cincinnati Reds center fielder Chris Dickerson is probably headed to the DL with a wrist problem, which means we'll see a whole lot more of Drew Stubbs. So far that hasn't been a great thing, as he's hitting .197, but can really run. Let's see if he tries to do so against Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals.
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Ozzie in New York: I'm sure the New York tabloid writers can't wait for Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to give them juicy quotes. Guillen made an interesting one Thursday when he announced leadoff batter Juan Pierre, hitting .200 with nary an extra base hit, would be benched. Does that mean more Andruw Jones? And who leads off? I still wouldn't cut Pierre yet in fantasy.
Booing the bust: Yankees fans don't appear to like Javier Vazquez, but it would behoove them to greet him favorably for Saturday's game if they want good results. Vazquez, easily a top-10 fantasy pitcher in 2009, is sputtering with a 9.00 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. It sure looks like the pressure of New York is affecting his psyche. Vazquez faces John Danks on Saturday, so he might not get a ton of run support, but it would be nice if the fans gave him support.
Brave new world: Atlanta Braves starter Jair Jurrjens could have a DL stint in his future, as he left Thursday's game before the second inning with a strained left hamstring. Jurrjens wouldn't have pitched this weekend anyway, but those in deep leagues or NL-only formats should preemptively add Kris Medlen in case he joins the rotation. Medlen was nearly as good as Tommy Hanson in Triple-A last season, but has yet to get a regular chance to start in the bigs.
Seeking Otis Nixon! Man, the Braves are desperate for a leadoff hitter. The team faces a struggling Houston Astros pitching staff this weekend, but with a nine-game losing streak and little offense, I actually like Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris to pitch well. Atlanta's big problem is the leadoff spot, where five players have combined to hit .109 with a startling .357 OPS. It looks like shortstop Yunel Escobar could get a long look hitting first, making him a bit more desirable for fantasy (if he hits!).
Closing time: I think Trevor Hoffman gets the next save chance for the Milwaukee Brewers, especially since he's back in San Diego. I think Chad Qualls gets the next save chance for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I think Alfredo Simon gets the next save chance for the Baltimore Orioles, though with the Boston Red Sox coming to town, it might not be anytime soon.
Sunday night baseball!: Santana is 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA in four starts at Citizens Bank Park, so even with a slight decline in pitch velocity, he's probably not going to get lit up on ESPN. Jamie Moyer might, though; he was awful against the Mets last season. Current Mets are hitting .332 with a .537 slugging percentage off Moyer, with David Wright (.426, .702) leading the way.
Enjoy the first weekend of May ... still five more months to go this season, so pace yourselves!