Down Under—Despite sporting BARB’s best record (61-42), the Darwin Finches are clearly a team on the edge, the clubhouse a cheerless tomb and their management team perplexed. How can this be?

"It’s really simple," drawled manager PZ Myers. "We know that, as good as we’ve played, we’re just one losing streak away from missing the playoffs. Worcester got more offense that we’ve got, and they’ve got more speed, and they’ve refused to go away. And now we’re getting injuries, and it’s testing our organizational depth. We could easily split the rest of our games, win 88-90 games, and still miss the playoffs while a team like Arizona or Oakeyland, in a weaker division gets in. And we can’t seem to plug a hole."

Want further proof? After again losing RHP Josh Johnson to a season-ending injury, the Unnatural Selections were expected to turn to LHP Oliver Perez, their AAA insurance policy. But Perez got hurt at the same time, and now 40-year-old John Smoltz, the team ERA leader (6-7, 3.09) has been placed on the 15-day DL after dropping a tough 7-2 loss to Oakeyland. What to do? It’s almost impossible to get starting pitching at this time in the year without greatly overpaying, and so the Finches have elected to recall Dustin McGowan and Yovani Gallardo for more than a cup of coffee: Gallard will make his first-ever BARB start this week, auditioning for a future trade—and more youngsters are expected to follow with utility man Bill Hall and 3B Chipper Jones on the DL. 3B Andy Marte, who twice failed to give Eric Chavez much of a run for his job, will be recalled from AAA to give the club an extra bat, along with OF Corey Patterson.

All this shuffling, however, doesn’t plug what manager Myers sees as the club’s biggest downfall. "We need some more speed. We’re pretty much station-to-station when healthy, and we’ve got to do a better job moving baserunners and a much better job of taking the other team’s speed away from them in sacrifice situations."

Toward that end, RF Jeff Francouer finally got his average over .250 after hitting below .200 for much of May and June, hitting his ninth HR of the season to back five-plus innings of one-run ball from Scott Kazmir (11-7, 3.83). Francouer’s shot scored three Finches and capped a four-run second that knocked out Kevin Millwood (5-9, 4.47) and the RF later added a single as well as throwing out Oakeyland OF Eric Byrnes attempting to stretch a double. Banished starter Jose Contreras, who was never considered for the rotation spot opened by Smoltz’s injury, continued to struggle, giving up a pair of runs in relief and it took Trevor Hoffman to nail the thing down after RBI by Swisher and Posada. Hoffman retired the last three batter to preserve a 5-3 win and in the process collect his BARB-leading 23rd save of the season.

Yet, the narrow win produced little joy. "We need some help to stay tough," conceded Myers. "It's a long season, and we're winded. We need some help. The trading deadline's just a few games away, and I understand that we've been trying to get some help, but the deals just keep hitting snags. Will we get help? Maybe not."

In other BARB action:

WP: Brandon Webb (12-3, 2.31)
LP: C.C. Sabathia (11-8, 3.70)

Trailing 3-1 in the fifth, the visiting D-Backs scored seven times in the sixth against C.C. Sabathia and two relievers, then added an EIGHT-spot in the seventh, a blowout so thorough that it led to a mound appearance by 3B Ryan Zimmerman, moving the visitors above .500 (51-50) and clinching a series win against the host Firebirds. 2B B.J. Upton, moved to CF to keep his bat in the lineup, had four hits to raise his BARB average to .306 in leading the D-Backs attack, while Brandon Webb joined Johann Santana as BARB’s first 12-game winners.

FROSTBITE FALLS 11, S-MART 8 (11 innings)
WP: Joe Nathan (3-1, 1.59)
LP: Jason Isringhausen (3-7, 5.46)

Michael Young played late-inning hero twice to crush the visiting Boom Sticks, who went flat in the late innings, blowing leads of 6-0 and 8-4 and eventually losing in the bottom of the 11th. Young came up big: in the ninth, he smacked a two-run single with two out to tie the game and force extra frames, and in the 11th, hit a walkoff homer with a man aboard, just his second boundary belt of the season. Joe Nathan, the fourth Squirrels pitcher, worked two innings of perfect ball for the win.

WP: Andy Pettite (5-5, 3.79)
LP: Randy Johnson (3-8, 3.69)
SV: Rodriguez (22)

Francisco Rodriguez picked up his BARB-leading 22nd save in relief of Andy Pettite, and Brian McCann had a big pinch-hit double with runners on to send the Moabs to their sixth win in the last seven games, and just two games (58-43) out of first place in the wild, wild East. With big bats Aramis Ramirez, Ramon Hernandez and Lyle Overbay still sidelined, the increasingly-punchless Creepers managed seven hits, all singles. Marcus Giles (.210) and Jason LaRue (.161) continue to slump, and there is little doubt that neither would get playing time if the Creepers were not so riddled with injuries.

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