He's 56 and his career average was only .237 in 80 games, but he just might tip the balance of power in the NL East. In his eight seasons as the Philadelphia batting coach, Billy DeMars turned the Phillies into the best hitting team in the league. Pete Rose thinks enough of DeMars to have given him the ball for hit No. 3,500.

DeMars was dumped by the new regime in Philadelphia after 13 years in the organization, and Montreal snatched him up immediately. Even though the Expos won the division last year, they weren't a sound hitting team. Their overall average was .246, 27 points below the Phillies', and their free swinging made them easy marks. "DeMars has already helped me," says Shortstop Chris Speier, whose .225 average in 1981 makes him an obvious candidate for instruction.

Montreal will be deeper and better than it was last year especially with the acquisition of Al Oliver, a .303 lifetime hitter, to play first base. Leftfielder Tim Raines can expect a much tougher time from pitchers after his 71 stolen bases and .304 average. Warren Cromartie who moves from first base to rightfield, promises both the batting title and increased sales of the CroBar (almonds in 100% chocolate). Catcher Gary Carter will try, if at all possible, to justify his eight-year, $15 million contract. If Centerfielder Andre Dawson gets any better, he'll be frightening. If he hits during the postseason, he'll be astonishing.

The battle of the spring occurred at second base, where incumbent Rodney Scott lost out to rookie Wallace Johnson. Scott is a good fielder, but his average has declined steadily the last four years, down to .205 in '81. Johnson provides some much-needed offense in the infield, but as President John McHale says, "You wouldn't ask him to give a seminar on ground balls."

The Expos also have nagging uncertainties at short and third. Speier should be able to fend off Frank Taveras at shortstop only because he's steadier. Rumor has it that Mets owner Nelson Doubleday offered a pair of Gucci loafers to the Mets executive who could make a deal to get rid of Taveras. By trading Larry Parrish to Texas for Oliver the Expos created an opening at third, which will be filled by either Tim Wallach or Brad Mills. Wallach batted .236 as a reserve outfielder with the Expos last year while Mills hit .314 playing third in Denver.

As for the pitching, well, nothing could be finer. Steve Rogers leads a staff that is unmatched in the division: Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, Ray Burris and Charlie Lea. Jeff Reardon and Woodie Fryman will do the tidying up.

In the immortal words of Cromartie, "We're all just spirits in the material world. And our spirits are good."

Montreal has always played its best ball late in the season. Since 1973, the Expos have had a better won/lost percentage in September than in the preceding months in every year except one. In the past three seasons, when they were fighting for the division title, the Expos have been 63-37 (.630) from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season schedule.

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