1. Why do the Mariners lead the league in steroid suspensions?

Three of the nine major leaguers who have been tested positive for steroids this season play for Seattle. Infielder-outfielder Mike Morse became the latest Mariner to turn up positive when he was suspended 10 days for steroids. The others were outfielder Jamal Strong and pitcher Ryan Franklin.

So far it seems unfair to single out Seattle to say the Mariners have a steroid problem that no one else has -- the pool of positive tests is still too small. But one-third of the total number of major league suspensions this year is a lot. Each player has his own excuse, of course. Strong says he took something he didn't know was a steroid, Franklin insists that he tested clean on another test and must have taken a legal substance somehow tainted with steroids and Morse tested positive in 2004 for something he took in the previous fall and believes he must still have traces of that 2003 experiment in his system.

"I'm all for testing," he told reporters the other day. "For knocking out steroids."

For now let's just say the Mariners are unlucky.

2. Who will be the next manager of the Pirates?

Believe it or not, there are people lining up to manage the Pirates next year despite their second-half collapse that has them at the bottom of the National League. When Lloyd McClendon was fired earlier in the week, a short list of candidates quickly emerged with an interesting name from the past arising: Jim Leyland, who managed Pittsburgh for 11 seasons in the late 1980s and early '90s, some of the franchise's glory years.

Leyland, who now works for the Cardinals, has said nothing about the Pirates job but told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "I think everybody knows I'm interested in managing again."

Perhaps the manager who has drawn in the most intrigue in Pittsburgh is Oakland's Ken Macha, a Pennsylvania native who has been rumored to long to leave the grip of his general manager, Billy Beane.

3. Who is the hottest team in the NL West?

In the division nobody seems to want to win, the worst team of all has been the best in the second half. In the void of anyone in the division making any run at the postseason, the Rockies -- once destined for a 100-loss season -- are surging. They are 19-14 since Aug. 1 and no longer have the worst record in the National League. That now belongs to Pittsburgh.

The Rockies seem energized by a group of young players and hardly resemble the team that started 0-12 on the road in the National League West this year. They now have won 10 of 18 on the road.

4. Is Chris Carpenter the Cy Young winner this year?

Probably. While Roger Clemens has been dominant the whole year with an ERA hanging well below 2.00, he has been hampered by an offense that has kept his record at 11-6. Meanwhile, Carpenter has gotten better and better as the year has gone on. Last night he won his 13th straight game, pushing his record to 21-4. He is also 12-0 against teams in his own division.

He might receive competition from Florida's Dontrelle Willis, who won his 20th game earlier in the week, but as long as Carpenter keeps winning he is in good shape; after all, 22 of the National League's 38 Cy Young winners since 1967 have led the league in victories. The ERA champion has only won 11 times. The last ERA champion who wasn't also the league's top winner to take the award was Montreal's Pedro Martinez and that was in 1997.

5. How much would the Nationals love to have Cliff Lee right now?

Oh, for the love of Bartolo Colon. Montreal was desperate to win in the summer of 2002 and shipped off two of its best prospects -- outfielder Grady Sizemore and Lee, a left-handed pitcher -- for Colon, who never helped them that much and quickly left for the White Sox, leaving the Expos (and now Nationals) to pine for Lee.

He is now 15-4 for Cleveland, coming off eight shutout innings in a 6-1 victory over Detroit.

Best of all, just as Washington's pitchers seem to have hit a wall, he is 6-0 with a 3.43 ERA since July 8. And with 15 wins he is only behind Colon and Jon Garland for the most victories in the league.

"Absolutely there are guys who have a knack for winning games. Cliff is one of them, and it's very underrated," third baseman Aaron Boone told the News-Herald of Willoughby, Ohio. "All year long, if we have a big inning, he makes a conscious effort to get us back in the dugout fast. He takes a lot of pride in that. He's fun to play behind."