Tony La Russa is expected to sign a contract extension with the Cardinals in the next few days, and Mark McGwire is a big supporter.

"It's not his fault we're playing the way we are," McGwire said. "The media and the public's jumping on Tony and the coaching staff and they have nothing to do with it. It's the players."

Heading into the season finale the Cardinals are 74-86, their third losing record in La Russa's four years with the team.

Injuries to the pitching staff have hampered the team the last two years. This season the Cardinals lost two starters early and then their bullpen, expected to be a strength, collapsed.

They've also been fundamentally sloppy and set a team record for strikeouts for the second time in three seasons with 1,201 -- 10 more than in 1997.

McGwire said none of it was La Russa's fault.

"Believe me, he's the most well-prepared manager in the game," McGwire said. "He gets his players to play, and we've had a lot of things happen this year that weren't expected, and this is where we are."

In recent weeks La Russa has talked a lot about the future of the team, but not about his future with the team. He's said he doesn't want to detract from the game.

"I'll wait till the end of the season," he said.

La Russa is in the final year of a contract that pays him $1.5 million per season.

General Manager Walt Jocketty said the extension, for two or three years, will be finalized soon.

"We just haven't had a chance to sit down and work out the mechanics of the contract yet," Jocketty said. "I'll let you know when we do it."

STATISTICS: Dodgers Manager Davey Johnson said he will rest OF Gary Sheffield the final day of the season, ensuring Sheffield will join Duke Snider (1955) as the only players in club history to hit .300 with 100 runs, RBI and walks. . . . The Giants have 188 home runs, the team's most since it hit a franchise-high 205 in 1987. The Giants also have five players with 80 or more RBI for the first time in franchise history.