The Potomac Cannons (24-44) are saddled with the fourth-worst record in professional baseball. Come Friday, however, they will be tied for first in the Carolina League.

The first half of the season ends with today's home game against Wilmington. Good riddance, the Cannons say. Of the eight teams in the Carolina League, they are the only one with a losing record.

The Carolina season is divided into halves, with the first-half winners in each division playing the second-half division winners in a best-of-three series. If a team wins both halves, it earns a bye into the finals, a best-of-five series.

"It's a big advantage in this league that they split it up into two seasons," said catcher Chris Martine, in his second year in Prince William. "You have something to play for still. It puts everybody back at the same level."

"Starting over is the best thing for us," said center fielder Esix Snead, who leads the league with 34 stolen bases despite a .176 batting average. "Everybody here believes we can win. That's the main thing."

The Cannons indeed are mighty thankful for the do-over. Because of injuries, three of the projected starting pitchers -- Tristan Jerue, Britt Reames and Otoniel Lanfranco -- have thrown just 85 innings among them. A fourth starter, Kevin Sheredy, has been sent to the bullpen. The fifth starter is Jason Navarro, who has a league-high eight losses.

The Cannons also have floundered at the plate, batting a league-low .232. All-Star designated hitter Andy Bevins and outfielders David Kim and William Ortega have turned in productive first halves, giving the team a meaty middle of the order. It's the bread around them that's stale.

"The guys at the top of the order and at the bottom of the order need to do a better job of getting on base," said second baseman Rob MacCrory who, with a .230 batting average, counts himself among those batters. "The guys in the middle are hitting great; they just don't have anybody to drive in."

Many of the Cannons played on the Peoria team last year that went 38-30 in the second half after a 34-38 first half. Potomac went 29-40 the first half of 1998 and 43-27 in the second.

During the course of a conversation, any member of the Cannons coaching staff will use the phrase "make adjustments" a handful of times. The pitchers have to adjust to opposing hitters. The hitters have to adjust to opposing pitchers. It's a familiar refrain, but not one that is always heeded.

"Certain guys are making them and certain guys aren't," Manager Joe Cunningham said. "The guys who aren't making them sooner or later are going to have to make them.

"All these guys on this club were probably the best players on their high school or college team. But this ain't high school and this ain't college anymore."

Kim, for one, agrees.

"We have to make adjustments earlier instead of waiting so long," he said. "There have been a lot of times when we've been no-hit for a while. If we can make adjustments after our first at-bats, we won't have that so much. We should know the pitchers well enough now to know what they're trying to accomplish when they're out there."

The hitters in the middle of the order, and All-Star reliever Jason Marr, tied for the league lead in saves with 12, have all enjoyed fine first halves. But the most surprising Cannon has been third baseman Taber Maier, who worked his way into a starting job and has retained it by batting .284 with 23 RBI. He also is the only Cannon to walk more times (31) than he's struck out (27).

Maier, too, is hopeful for a better team performance in the second half, though his optimism is guarded.

"Just because you're starting off with a clean slate, I'm not saying there's going to be a complete turnaround," he said. "We're not necessarily going to come out on fire just because we're 0-0."

THE WEEK AHEAD

Today

Wilmington (Home game)

1:30 p.m.

Monday

No game scheduled

Tuesday

No game scheduled

Wednesday

No game scheduled

Thursday

No game scheduled

Friday

Winston-Salem (Home game)

7:30 p.m.

Saturday

Winston-Salem (Home game)

7 p.m.

CAPTION: Outfielder William Ortega averaged .274 with 6 homers and 42 RBI in first half.