Consider this: If the Detroit Tigers, first-place runaways in the American League East, play just .500 baseball the rest of the way, the second-place Toronto Blue Jays would still need 43 victories in 65 games just to tie them.
Asked how he views Detroit's huge edge over all others in the all-important lost column, Toronto manager Bobby Cox said: ''The Tigers are a great ball club. With their pitching and balance, they are right where they ought to be. It's wishful thinking to consider that they might fold. But we've played well, too, and we do have six games left with Detroit in September.
''One plus I still have going for me that most managers don't is Toronto's flexibility as a team,'' Cox continued. ''Because of our pitching, hitting, and bench strength, I don't necessarily have to do things by the book. I can cross other teams up once in awhile in the strategy department and get away with it.''
Reminded that Toronto may have taken itself out of the race with a 13-16 June slump, Cox said: ''If you read that figure in a newspaper you might call it a slump, but if you'd seen us play you wouldn't call it that. We lost 16 games, not because we didn't perform just as well as we had in April and May, but because we ran into a string of opponents who were really hot. Baseball is a funny game. Some years you need 100 victories just to finish second. Other years , if you happen to be in a weak division, you can win with 89. I don't know what the answer is for us, considering the size of Detroit's lead (101/2 games as of Wednesday), but I know that we can't afford to get any further back than we already are.''
How far is too far back?
Well, the 1938 Chicago Cubs trailed Pittsburgh by eight games on Aug. 20 but wound up winning the pennant by two games. The 1942 St. Louis Cardinals, 91/2 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers on Aug. 15, also won by two. The 1951 New York Giants, 131/2 games back in mid-August, came on to tie the Dodgers for first place and won the pennant in a playoff. The 1969 New York Mets, down 91/2 to the Cubs on Aug. 13, eventually made it look easy by building an eight-game lead. And the 1974 Baltimore Orioles, eight games in back of the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 29, finished two up.
However, the granddaddy of them all probably was the 1914 Boston Braves team, which came from last place on July 4, to win the National League Pennant and then upset Connie Mack's famed Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.
Elsewhere around the major leagues
Dave Kingman's 28th home run tied him (at 370) with Gil Hodges and Tony Perez for 27th place on the all-time list. The Oakland slugger also leads the majors in RBIs with 87 ... By now the defending world champion Baltimore Orioles probably think Kansas City reserve catcher Don Slaught belongs in the Hall of Fame. Slaught, just over .200 against the rest of the American League, went 12 -for-16 against the O's in a recent three-game series and is now hitting .457 against them ... Philadelphia's Steve Carlton, who needed two months to post his first two victories this year, has now won five in a row and seven of his last eight for a 9-4 overall mark. The reasons? His breaking ball is falling off the table again and the Phillies are providing him with more runs.
Another hot National League pitcher is Joe Niekro who has won eight of nine for Houston after opening the season 2-7 .... The Milwaukee Brewers, going nowhere in the American League East, reportedly are trying to convince the San Diego Padres that they need high-salaried pitcher Don Sutton for their stretch drive.
Rookie Orel Hershiser, who has been only so-so out of the bullpen for Los Angeles, seems to turn into Walter Johnson every time Manager Tommy Lasorda starts him, which lately has been on a regular basis. Hershiser, who recently threw consecutive two-hit victories, has 37 strikeouts in his last 36 innings and has now gone 31 straight frames without giving up a run ...... The Boston Red Sox' No. 2 through No. 5 hitters (Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Tony Armas, and Mike Easler) had combined for 70 homers, 205 runs scored, and 235 runs batted in by the July 10 All-Star break. If they can maintain that pace through the second half of the season, they will go down in baseball history as one of the best four-man offensive units of all time.