1. Are the White Sox a postseason disaster looming?

They certainly aren't hitting like a true contender. All year baseball people have wondered just how good Chicago is, speculating that it might be a team that sailed ahead of everyone else based on the fact that it hadn't faced a bit of adversity. Well, the adversity has arrived. The team is hitting .222 and has three or fewer runs in nine of its past 14 games.

There continue to be rumors that the team is trying to get Cincinnati center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. and General Manager Ken Williams has gamely pursued Griffey but to little avail. The thought is that Reds owner Carl Linder, who is trying to sell the majority of the team, might have trouble getting the deal done if Griffey is not part of the team. There is also speculation that Chicago refuses to take on too much of Griffey's salary or won't trade top pitching prospect Brandon McCarthy.

Still, Chicago is going to need some kind of offense to counter the pitchers it will see in the playoffs. Griffey would be a good start.

2. Is Jason Marquis pitching himself out of the Cardinals' rotation?

He might be. Earlier in the season he was considered the last link of a rotation that could go five deep if needed in the postseason. Instead, he could wind up off the roster altogether. He has lost 10 of his last 11 decisions and his ERA since July 16 has gone from 3.27 to 6.17.

There's talk he might not even make Sunday's start against the Nationals -- Anthony Reyes might replace him -- though Marquis is resisting a move to the bullpen. Still, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan is growing frustrated with Marquis' refusal to stick with a game plan of throwing sliders low in the strike zone.

"He listens to what is said, he practices things that we talk about, if you go down and watch his bullpens you'd think that nobody could beat this guy," Duncan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But I see him go in the wrong direction. When I say that, he needs to be more aggressive with the strike zone."

It's not like the Cardinals don't already have four dependable starters with Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan, but they had high hopes for Marquis after he won 15 games last season.

3. Is Oakland's pitching starting to fail?

A big reason for Oakland's resurgence has been its rebuilt starting rotation. Barry Zito has found his old rhythm and Danny Haren has pitched well but the team really took off when Rich Harden came off the disabled list in late June. In that time he has gone 8-2 with a 2.54 ERA and has held opponents to a .184 average.

But Harden is hurt again. Back in May he had an oblique strain, now he has a lat strain and might possibly miss his next start if not more. If so, it might be a deadly blow to the A's playoff hopes. This group is not as resilient as some of the previous Oakland teams. It is a team so fragile that the players went out and shaved their faces in an effort to change their luck -- which hasn't been so good lately. It probably can't withstand the prolonged loss of Harden.

4. How badly did Seattle's 2004 rebuilding plan fail this year?

The Mariners believed they could hold onto old stars and slowly get younger and fresher before the start of last season. Instead the plan blew up completely and the team tumbled into last place. But no one could have predicted how quickly they would give up on that blueprint. Last week, they dropped Scott Spiezio from their roster, meaning the entire starting infield on opening day 2004 is gone.

Shortstop Rich Aurilia lasted half a season before being dumped to San Diego. First baseman John Olerud went a few days later when public pressure had built too much to call up slugging first baseman Bucky Jacobsen from the minor leagues. Second baseman Bret Boone was cut earlier this season, then came Spiezio -- perhaps the biggest disappointment of all and ill-suited to be a third baseman. Even Miguel Olivio, hailed as the catcher of the future when he arrived as part of the Freddy Garcia trade, was sent to the Padres about a year after arriving.

The mass dumps have cost them more than $13 million. Which is why you probably won't see the Mariners getting back to respectability anytime soon.

5. Have the Marlins completely given up on Mike Lowell?

For the past three years their third baseman was an all-star. Then came this season in which he's had just six home runs and none since Aug. 1. Finally this week they benched him replacing him with Miguel Cabrera, their left fielder but also a converted third baseman. They will give up defense -- Lowell was a potential Gold Glove winner -- but his offense was so bad they had to do something. Lowell's drop could actually be traced to the middle of last season. He's had 14 home runs in his last 717 at bats.

They tried dumping Lowell off on the Orioles in the A.J. Burnett trade earlier in the summer but ran into the problem of what to do with the $18 million he is owed over the next two seasons. The chances of trading him are small, but they have a third baseman in Class AA, Jeremy Hermida, who everyone believes is ready for the big leagues.