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The Dodgers will take the race to the final week because they have the best pitching in baseball. Los Angeles is counting on Orel Hershiser's right shoulder to hold up and on the solid work of Mike Morgan (9-5 at the break but traditionally a poor finisher) to continue.
L.A. has scored plenty of runs thanks to a terrific opening half by second baseman Juan Samuel (.313) and the addition of leadoff man Brett Butler (.403 on-base percent age). Just think how dangerous the Dodgers could be when Darryl Strawberry (.229 average) gets going and when Eddie Murray (.312 career average in September and October) makes his usual late-season charge.
With all due respect to the Tigers and Yankees, this will be a two-team race. The Blue Jays were 5� games ahead of the Red Sox at the break because Toronto's new faces ( Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter—the league's first-half MVP—and Devon White) have shone, while Boston's newcomers ( Jack Clark, Danny Darwin and Matt Young) have struggled. The Jays' acquisition of pitcher Tom Candiotti (2.23 ERA) from Cleveland on June 27 gives them the best five-man rotation in the league and may have given them the pennant. Candiotti allows Mike Timlin, the top candidate for American League Rookie of the Year, to move back to a loaded bullpen anchored by Tom Henke, who was 16 for 16 in save opportunities.
Opponents must find it discouraging that Toronto has played so well despite getting a combined 16 homers and 45 RBIs from John Olerud and Kelly Gruber, who, with Carter, were supposed to form the heart of the older. It also doesn't help the rest of the division that the Blue Jays won't play another East team after Sept. 8. "But that's a disadvantage for us," says Toronto general manager Pat Gillick. "You want to knock heads with teams you have to beat. And none of those teams in the West will be going through the motions in September. We have to be eight games up by then."
Toronto won't build that kind of lead, even with the Red Sox—who went 24-29 after an 18-9 start—playing as badly as they have. "If we play like ourselves, if we can shake ourselves, we can make a run," says Boston general manager Lou Gorman. "We haven't done that yet."
The man who can do the shaking is Mo Vaughn, the powerful, charismatic rookie first baseman who hit three homers in his first seven games after being called up on June 27. But there's no indication that the pitching Boston got last year will return. Starters other than Roger Clemens had a 4.99 ERA at the break. The worst news for the Red Sox is that after the break, they don't play a team with a losing record until Aug. 5, and they don't play the Blue Jays after Aug. 12.
"This is going to be the best," says A's pitcher Dave Stewart. The best, most competitive race in the history of this division, that is. The five teams separated by 2� games at the break—the Twins, Rangers, Angels, A's and White Sox-could still be bunched on Sept. 1.
The Angels' first four starters ( Chuck Finley, Mark Langston, Jim Abbott, Kirk McCaskill) are terrific, and California's defense is vastly improved. "Winnie [ Dave Winfield] has done it all year; it's time for me to pick it up after the break," says designated hitter Dave Parker, who batted .222 in the first half. The Angels are old, but experienced. If they don't tire in September, and if their experiment with a four-man rotation works, they'll be the team to beat.