Reds doing a number on division challengers


The Cincinnati Reds are a long way from clinching the National League Central, but they have sent a definite message to the two clubs that have any hope of catching them.

The Reds spent the long weekend pushing the Chicago Cubs to the brink of noncontention as they continued their cross-divisional battle with the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the National League. The second-place Houston Astros are in a better position to compete for the division title (or a wild-card berth) but they already have found out who's who in head-to-head competition.

Cincinnati is 7-0 against Houston this year and a combined 10-1 against the only division contenders.

Still, it was far from a perfect second-half kickoff for the Reds. They lost hot-hitting Ron Gant to a rib cage injury on Saturday and could be without him for a week.

NL East

Somebody better hose off Braves ace Greg Maddux, or polish up another Cy Young Award. Maddux has been the most dominating pitcher in the majors for the past 3 1/2 years, as his combined 65-28 record since the start of the 1992 season illustrates, but he appears to have stepped up to an even higher level in 1995. With his five-hitter against San Diego on Thursday, he is 7-0 with an 0.99 ERA over his past 10 starts. . . . NL East Player of the Weekend: Montreal Expos outfielder Rondell White, whose 7-for-9 performance Friday and Saturday added to the miserable tale of the tailspinning Phillies.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda insists that he knew ahead of time that Ramon Martinez was going to pitch a no-hitter on Friday night. Of course, Martinez facing the Florida Marlins is a no-hitter waiting to happen. . . . Rumors persist that the Padres are trying to re-acquire Joe Carter or Roberto Alomar from the Toronto Blue Jays, but the club's 3-9 slide makes any expensive attempt to compete in the second half seem futile. The Padres played surprisingly good baseball in the first half, but they are more than one player away from a place in the new three-tiered postseason playoffs. . . . Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker (.317, 20 HR, 53 RBIs) is being touted as an MVP candidate, but how do you choose among the three hitters at the heart of the explosive Rockies lineup? Dante Bichette (.337, 13 HR, 51 RBIs) and Andres Galarraga (.293, 19 HR, 56 RBIs) also are having monster seasons.

AL Central

Nice weekend for baseball fans in Chicago. While the Cubs were getting shellacked by the Reds, the White Sox were continuing their descent into baseball purgatory in Milwaukee. The Brewers scored 31 runs in sweeping the four-game series. The once-respected White Sox may be floundering, but they are aiding owner Jerry Reinsdorf's attempt to portray Chicago as a small baseball market. . . . Meanwhile, back in the pennant race, the first-place Cleveland Indians remain in their own little world -- high atop the rest of the American League. They swept the Oakland A's in a four-game series, proving that they have more than enough depth to weather the recent loss of first baseman Eddie Murray.

AL East

Bad week for mild-mannered Mo Vaughn, who found himself embroiled in controversy after an altercation at a Boston nightclub. Vaughn apparently was defending his girlfriend when he scuffled with another club patron. Each man accused the other of assault, but no charges were filed. Just another ugly incident involving a high-profile baseball player, but Vaughn deserves the benefit of the doubt in this case. He has worked hard to be a solid role model and should not be branded by one unseemly incident that may not have been of his making. . . . The Yankees finally got pitcher Scott Kamieniecki back, but he didn't exactly come riding to the rescue in his first start since an elbow injury May 5. Kamieniecki gave up five runs on seven hits and two walks over 3 1/3 innings in Saturday's 8-5 loss to the lowly Minnesota Twins.

AL West

He might change the competitive equation for the Texas Rangers. Veteran pitcher Kevin Gross has been a major disappointment since he signed a rich free-agent contract last winter, but he appears to be collecting himself at the right time. Gross (4-8) delivered a strong performance on Saturday and has given up just five earned runs in his last 22 2/3 innings (1.99 ERA). The Rangers suddenly have one of the best rotations in the league with Bob Tewksbury and Kenny Rogers. . . . It's hard not to marvel at the scoring machine known as the California Angels. They recently became the first club to reach 400 runs and they did it with their top hitter (Chili Davis) on the disabled list for several weeks.

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