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The first half of the season made no sense. The Giants won only one more game than the Astros, while the Cardinals were 6� games ahead of the Cubs. Reds reliever Rob Dibble had more suspensions than blown saves, while Cub outfielder Doug Dascenzo didn't allow a run in three relief appearances. Pirate catcher Mike LaValliere had more triples than Cincinnati's Eric Davis, while Houston's Casey Candaele had as many home runs as the Royals' George Brett.
The Cubs, Expos, Giants and Royals all fell out of pennant contention, and six managers lost their jobs. If the second half proceeds in a more sensible way, three divisions will have two-team races, and the other will be a five-team battle royal. Here's why:
Pittsburgh looked like a possible runaway winner in June, but now it appears that the Pirates will be tested. They'll still win the division, because they've already survived poor starts from pitcher Doug Drabek (1-6 on May 11, 7-2 thereafter) and outfielder Barry Bonds (he was hitting .187 on May 11, .318 after) and because they almost never beat themselves. At the break they had no one with a .300 average or as many as 12 home runs or 52 RBIs, but they led the division by 2� games.
The Bucs won't crack under pressure because they're too loose. "While you're out there trying to get a game-winning hit," says Pittsburgh coach Rich Donnelly, "somebody might be in the clubhouse nailing your shoes to your locker. But he's rooting for you while he does it."
The big question mark for the Pirates is third baseman Jeff King, who has played in only 10 games since May 5 because of a back injury. If he can't play in the second half, Pittsburgh will have to trade for a third baseman so that Bobby Bonilla can return to the outfield.
It would be great theater if the Cardinals made a run at the Pirates, but the Mets are the only team equipped to do that. New York finished the first half with seven straight wins, and the Mets always play well right after the break. They open the second half with 11 games at home, one of which might be started by lefthander Sid Fernandez, who has been out since he broke a bone in his left arm in spring training. But New York can't win the division if Dwight Gooden (8-6 with a 4.18 ERA before the break) doesn't return to form.
When the Dodgers opened a five-game lead on the Reds on July 3, one well-respected Western Division scout said Cincy would still win the division by 10 games. That's ridiculous. However, Cincinnati has begun to look more like a defending-world champion. One reason is shortstop Barry Larkin, who proved with his torrid June (.370 average, nine homers, 23 RBIs, 13 steals) that he may be the best player in the league. Another reason is Dibble, who hasn't blown any of his 23 first-half save opportunities.
The Reds also are hoping for better days from Davis, who had 20 RBIs in 170 at bats in the first half. Davis got off to a slow start last year but hit .347 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in September and October. And if injured pitchers Jose Rijo, Norm Charlton and Scott Scudder all return to the rotation by the end of July, as hoped, Cincinnati should have enough pitching to overtake L.A.