The regular season is finally underway, and no doubt you've been staring intently at your lineups agonizing over every strikeout and poor pitching performance your team tacks on its stat line. Such are the ways of fantasy baseball managers. Rest assured, Jose Reyes is not going to bat .111 the rest of the way and Max Scherzer isn't going to finish the year with a 10.80 ERA. Soon we'll all get back to our day jobs and this won't be an issue, but for now, just step away from the ledge. Unless of course you're a Matt Holliday or Evan Longoria owner, then you may have an issue. In this first Line ‘Em Up of the regular season we'll talk about what kind of impact these major injuries will have on their team's respective batting orders, along with some other notes from around the league.
Let's first deal with Mr. Holliday, who will be out for roughly a month after an appendectomy. Jon Jay and Allen Craig will be replacing him in the field, but it's who will be replacing him in the four-spot in the order that is important to us. Manager Tony La Russa has stated that he will be using third baseman David Freese against lefties and Lance Berkman versus righties to bat cleanup in Holliday's absence. Berkman is 35 and already battling some elbow pain so there's not a whole lot of upside there, as he's a good bet to get injured at any moment. Freese though, is an interesting rebound candidate who missed most of last season after needing major surgery on both of his ankles. Currently the St. Louis Cardinals are limiting him to playing two of every three games, but if he can use this opportunity to find the stroke that had him bat .296 last season and prove he can handle a heavier workload, he could be a nice waiver addition at a relatively shallow position.
In related Cardinals lineup news, Colby Rasmus was actually moved from number two to number five in the order on Sunday. La Russa saidhe made the move in an effort to get some thump in the middle of the lineup that the team has lost with Holliday's absence. Judging from those comments it appears this is something that will continue until Holliday comes back from the disabled list. You can expect a nice uptick in RBI for Rasmus, but he'll lose a few runs batting behind Albert Pujols instead of in front of him. Either way, he's a nice young player to have in your outfield. Jon Jay actually replaced Rasmus in the two spot, which would obviously be lucrative for him. Keep tabs on this and see if Jay will always bat there when he is in the lineup as he could be a nice pickup in NL-only leagues if this is the case.
Now let's get a handle on the other major injury of the season, the oblique strain for Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. He's expected to miss around three weeks and frustrate the hell out of owners who took him in the first round. Sean Rodriguez will be the primary third baseman with Ben Zobrist playing second, giving our boy from last week Matt Joyce full-time work in right field. The batting order went through a major reshuffling, which would make sense when a team loses its best hitter. Zobrist will bat third with the speedy B.J. Upton taking his spot at the top of the order. Each player stands to gain some fantasy value from their respective moves, especially Upton who was batting sixth previously and will get a ton of stolen base attempts as the team tries to generate more offense than they have so far (only one run in each game). Rodriguez also makes for an interesting pickup now that he has a full-time gig.
The bottom of the Houston Astros lineup will apparently be in constant flux this season, according to manager Brad Mills. Brett Wallace, Bill Hall, and Chris Johnson will all be moving around in the 5-to-7 spots in the order until further notice, which is simply wonderful for fantasy analysis. Brett Wallace moved up to fifth during spring training but batted seventh in the season opener because Mills wanted to take some pressure off of the second-year first baseman with Roy Halladay on the mound. Considering how things shook out in spring training Wallace is a good bet to get the valuable fifth spot back, especially if Mills wants to break up the run of right-handed batters in the order.
An interesting name to see at the top of a batting order is Will Rhymes, who has batted second in two of three Detroit Tigers' games this season. He is filling in for Carlos Guillen at second while the veteran recovers from microfracture knee surgery. He had an impressive spring, batting .328 but so far hasn't recorded a hit in seven regular season at-bats. He shouldn't draw interest outside of AL-only leagues but if the 5'9" Rhymes can find his spring training stroke he could be a nice source of runs and steal some bases for you as well.
If you're looking for some power to add to your bench look no further than Josh Willingham, who is locked into the cleanup spot all season for the Oakland Athletics. He has hit 20 or more home runs in the three seasons he has played in more than 114 games and there's no reason to think he won't continue that rate of production if he can stay healthy. He didn't waste any time displaying his power in his new uniform, belting a home run in his first game of 2011. He will likely give you an average somewhere in the .265 to.270 range, but his raw power potential and great spot in the lineup means he's worth a look in deeper mixed leagues.