The Pittsburgh Pirates will lose about $1.5 million this season, will be lucky to win 65 games and will finish dead last in attendance. And they couldn't be happier.

Once a franchise that was waiting for someone to back the moving van up to Three Rivers Stadium two years ago, the Pirates have trimmed the payroll, loaded up on young players and finally defined a positive image for themselves. In fact, that $1.5 million in losses is almost exactly what the Pirates are paying Steve Kemp and Larry McWilliams not to play for them this year. By next season, even drawing barely one million fans to Three Rivers Stadium, they could turn a profit.

What's more, they might be more than competitive in a year or two. Start with a starting rotation built around young fastballers Mike Dunne, Doug Drabek and Brian Fisher and a bullpen of John Smiley and Brett Gideon, and the Pirates have a decent foundation.

Andy Van Slyke, acquired in the Tony Pena trade with St. Louis, has been terrific in center field, and, in left, Barry Bonds looks like a mini-Rickey Henderson. Certainly, problems remain -- the lack of a shortstop and a leadoff hitter, for instance -- but it looks as if there's hope.

Pirates General Manager Syd Thrift wasn't kidding this week when he said, "No one in baseball has done a better job than I have. It ain't easy resurrecting the dead. If this club was worth X dollars when I took over, it's worth a whole lot more now."

Incidentally, the Pirates' average salary next year could be around $150,000, rivaling the Seattle Mariners for lowest in the majors. He's Still Not Playing

As it turns out, there might have been more to Mike Marshall leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers last week than a bruised shin. A night before he left, Pedro Guerrero confronted him in the dugout and screamed, "When is this guy going to play?" The two had to be separated earlier this season when Guerrero accused Marshall of faking injuries, but this time, Marshall didn't react.

He simply left the club the next day. Through Thursday, he had missed 50 games, and besides being impossible to trade, it appears to be difficult for the Dodgers to bring him back into a clubhouse where Guerrero says what a lot of others apparently feel . . . If you were wondering why the Cincinnati Reds have dropped out of the pennant race so quickly, here it is: Since the all-star break, their starters rolled up a 4.90 ERA (through Thursday). The Reds went 16-24 in that stretch . . .

St. Louis first baseman Jack Clark has a chance to be the first player to have 300 plate appearances in which he walked or struck out in a season. As the weekend began, he had 123 walks and 126 strikeouts, leaving him 51 short. The all-time leader is Houston's Jim Wynn, who had 148 walks and 142 strikeouts in 1969. In 1929, Babe Ruth drew 170 walks and struck out 93 times . . . Clark's 34 homers are the most for a Cardinal since Dick Allen's 34 in 1970. The last Cardinal to hit 35 was Stan Musial in 1954 . . .

Meanwhile, San Diego's Tony Gwynn and John Kruk have a chance to be the first teammates to finish first and second in a batting race in 33 years. Willie Mays and Don Mueller of the New York Giants did it in 1954 . . . They're fine-tuning their act: Last year, Texas pitchers set a major league record for the most wild pitches in a single season. This year, they have the single-season record for balks and passed balls . . .

Pete Rose says Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak probably will be broken someday and that the only untouchable records are Cy Young's 511 victories and Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive games . . . Kansas City's Bo Jackson homered Thursday, but since the all-star break, he's 17 for 77 (.221) with 35 strikeouts and four RBI. A more puzzling slump belongs to Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen, who is 1-4 with a 6.91 ERA in his last seven starts . . .

They have been overshadowed by Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak, but Milwaukee pitchers Teddy Higuera and Juan Nieves have turned their seasons around. Higuera is 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in August, and Nieves is 4-0 with a 3.93 ERA. Since the all-star break (through Thursday), the first two hitters in the Brewers' order, Molitor and Yount, were hitting .374 with 67 runs, 63 RBI and 22 stolen bases . . .

The New York Yankees might have the best team in the American League, but they don't put it on the field very often. Henderson and Willie Randolph have played 11 games since the break, a big reason the Yankees have scored three runs or fewer in 18 of their last 35 games. They've lost 21 of those . . . When Montreal's Dennis Martinez thought San Diego's Benito Santiago was peeking at signs while batting, he stepped off the mound and screamed a threat. The umpires took no action because they didn't understand Spanish. Santiago did . . . Do the Chicago Cubs need someone hitting behind Andre Dawson? He has 42 homers but only 73 runs. Cubs Manager Gene Michael has offered to help NL President A. Bartlett Giamatti get rid of the scuffballers, adding: "I know what I'm looking for. The league president doesn't. I could show him."

He uses Houston's Nolan Ryan as an example: "With {him}, you have to really look close. It's not a scuff. It's more of a buff." Giamatti declined the offer, just as he declined to think Houston's Dave Smith stuffing sandpaper down the front of his pants seconds before a search was evidence . . . His colleague in the AL, Bobby Brown, didn't think a videotape from the Baltimore Orioles showing New York's Rick Rhoden taking a ring off his finger and putting it in his pocket or this week's video of California's Don Sutton sandpapering a ball was evidence, either . . .

It appears Jesse Orosco's days with the New York Mets are running out. As Roger McDowell has become the No. 1 closer, Orosco hasn't had a save chance since Aug. 6 or a save since July 24. The Dodgers are believed to be interested . . . In a whirlwind tour of New York this week, Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda appeared on Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Sportsnight and a late-night sports talk show. He also managed a couple of games . . .

Jeffrey Leonard and Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants scuffled in the clubhouse before a game Tuesday night, then were startled when fight promoter Don King showed up the next night. "He wasn't here for no game," Leonard said. "He was here to negotiate for {a rematch of} Hack Man and Bone Crusher Clark." . . . It appears unlikely anyone can catch the Giants, whose revamped pitching staff has been paying almost nightly dividends. In all, Don Robinson, Rick Reuschel, Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts are 8-5 with seven saves. Robinson has two victories and four saves in his last 10 games . . .

A couple prominent Toronto Blue Jays continue to struggle. One is Jesse Barfield, who was on the bench Thursday night after his average had dropped 58 points in 58 days. First baseman Willie Upshaw has homered once in the last 38 games . . . The good news for the Blue Jays continues to be Tom Henke, who has gotten 11 of his last 13 outs on strikeouts (through Thursday) . . .

Seattle's Dick Williams said the Twins are 43-20 in the Metrodome, partly because they're stealing signals. Maybe so, but there's also the fact that their infield has made 41 errors all season, and shortstop Greg Gagne has gone 25 games without one. Their problem is their rotation, which has a 9.26 ERA in its last nine games. Steve Carlton (1-4) has been so ineffective that he'll relieve a while . . . The Twins aren't the only team having trouble with pitchers picked up for a stretch run. Joe Niekro and Carlton are 4-10, but Steve Trout is 0-4 with the Yankees and Phil Niekro is 0-2 with Toronto . . . Boston's Wade Boggs is on his way to a fifth straight 200-hit season, something no player has done . . .

Who'll win the AL West? Since the all-star break, the Athletics have the best record -- 19-21. They also think their bullpen might be the difference. Eric Plunk was brought up to replace injured Jay Howell after tremendous success as a short reliever at Tacoma (56 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings). He pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in his first Oakland outing and was clocked at 95 mph.Quote of the Week

San Diego's Tim Flannery on the longest hitting streak of his career, 14 games, and why he could never approach Paul Molitor's 39 games:

"My big mistake is that I'm superstitious. I was eating Chinese food and drinking tequila after every game. The streak had to end soon, or I was going to die."