NL gets early start on playoffs


It was another week of statistical wonder throughout the major leagues, but the next three days may be the most exciting of the soon-to-be-interrupted season.

There is a showdown series beginning tonight in each National League division, including a three-game set at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium between the streaking Montreal Expos and a Braves club that needs to re-establish some momentum. With the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros playing in the NL Central and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants going at it in the West, this might be the closest thing to the first tier of playoffs that baseball fans are going to get this year. . . . Bad luck apparently goes hand-in-hand with Philadelphia Phillies infielder/outfielder Dave Hollins, who spent two months on the disabled list with a broken bone in his left hand only to suffer another fracture in the same area Saturday in his first game back. Hollins, you might recall, missed time last year with a broken right hand.

NL Central

When is somebody going to throw a bucket of cold water on Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell? There already are rumors that they are going to engrave his name on the NL Player of the Week trophy, and now it looks as if he's after the Triple Crown. He hit two more home runs and had five RBIs in yesterday's 13-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, raising his home run total to 32 and his league-leading RBI count to 98. Yeah, 98! He also raised his average to .362, going 10-for-15 against the Pirates. . . . The Astros scored 38 runs in the four-game series and can only hope there are still a few runs left for the showdown series with the first-place Reds that begins tonight at Riverfront Stadium.

NL West

If the Colorado Rockies had just played representative baseball against their expansion counterpart from Florida, they might be leading the division right now. The Rockies completed a disappointing 3-9 season series against the Florida Marlins yesterday. They are 44-44 against the rest of the National League, and .500 would lead the NL West. . . . Colorado could be in first place later this week if the club can make hay during the head-to-head series between the Dodgers and Giants that starts tonight at Candlestick Park. The Rockies, meanwhile, play the San Diego Padres. . . . The Padres reeled off a five-game winning streak last week but remain the most hapless team in the major leagues. It doesn't have to be that way. The Orioles would be willing to give up several haps -- and maybe even a hap to be named later -- for Andy Benes.

AL East

The Blue Jays are coming. The Blue Jays are coming. After three months of frustration, the defending champions have mounted an eight-game winning streak and are tied for third place with the Boston Red Sox. It's probably too little too late -- since the season figures to be interrupted by a players strike in less than a month -- but it has taken some of the sting out of a horrible first half. . . . Open question: If the Red Sox had been closer to the top of the division standings or a wild-card playoff berth, would the American League still have allowed them the advantage of four extra home games when the series with the Mariners had to be moved out of the Kingdome? Who knows, but the 2-2 series probably won't be remembered as a turning point for either team.

AL Central

Frank Robinson was right. Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle is one of the last players who would need to use a doctored bat, and he has proved it in the week since AL officials accused him of corking. Belle managed only one hit in his first 10 at-bats after the incident, but he had nine hits in the next 20 trips, including four home runs. . . . Banner of the week, seen at Jacobs Field the night Indians third baseman Jim Thome hit three home runs and his teammates added three more in a 9-8 victory over the Chicago White Sox: "Hey Gene [Lamont], better check 'em all."

AL West

Mariners officials are still going through the roof nearly a week after several ceiling tiles plummeted to the floor of the Kingdome and forced the team to lose at least six home dates. Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, in what looked like a strong-arm attempt to advance the club's campaign for a new retractable roof stadium, railed at King County officials recently that the incident had made the club "the laughingstock of baseball." That seems a little extreme, since the four teams in the AL West have been competing for that distinction all season and the Mariners were at the bottom of the division standings on the day the sky began to fall in Seattle. If anything, the structural deterioration of the Kingdome may work to the long-term advantage of the Mariners, who now have the public relations high ground in their quest for a new home.

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