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The Thursday Takeaway

The Nationals are sitting pretty atop the NL East, and unless they suffer a major collapse and one of their divisional rivals goes on a (highly unlikely) hot streak, there’s a good chance that they're going to cruise to the playoffs. With that said, they’re similar to a boss from any one of The Legend of Zelda video games in that they have an obvious weakness that can be exploited by fearless opposition, and that was the case on Thursday afternoon against the Cubs.

Thursday’s game was a back and forth affair, and it seemed like the seventh inning would be the breakthrough moment for the Nationals. Dinosaur enthusiast Carl Edwards Jr. came on for relief duty—this was after Jon Lester basically put the clamps on Washington over six innings—and was greeted by Daniel Murphy taking a walk to first base and Anthony Rendon taking a tour around all of the bases after he gave the rest of the Cubs’ bullpen a souvenir to go back home with.

Brian Goodwin added an RBI single later in the inning to make it 4-2 Washington, and with the way the past two games had gone you had to like the Nats’ chances of finishing with a victory. Unfortunately, Washington’s notorious bullpen made an appearance that reminded us why they’re currently labeled as “notorious.” Matt Grace, Oliver Perez, and Joe Blanton all pitched without incident, but the same couldn’t be said for Blake Treinen.

Despite hitting Jeimer Candelario with one out, it seemed like he would be able to escape the inning unscathed after a fielder’s choice eventually wiped out Candelario. This ended up being the moment when things went off the rails a bit for Treinen, as the next three Cubs batters all reached safely. Consecutive singles from Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella culminated with Jon Jay hitting a double. Just like that, the Cubs had turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead and Nats fans had a familiar feeling of dread and annoyance after losing another late-inning lead.

Chicago’s bullpen did its job in the ninth inning and the Cubs ended up leaving D.C. with a split of the four-game series. Meanwhile, the Nationals had to endure yet another reminder of their biggest weakness and will have to make do without dynamic shortstop Trea Turner for a significant period of time. The road to the playoffs may be a simple one for Washington, but it’ll be fraught with potholes and mechanical errors if this keeps up.

Quick Hits

Carlos Correa, Jonathan Villar, and Joey Votto apparently had voracious appetites on Thursday, because they weren’t satisfied with a single serving of dingers. All three of them decided to go back to the buffet line for a second plate as they had two home runs each.

Villar’s pair of homers helped propel the Brewers to an easy victory over the Reds. With the way Villar has been hitting this year, this was a bit of a shock. It was just one of those days for Homer Bailey and the rest of Cincinnati’s pitching staff.

Meanwhile, Votto probably had one of the saddest two-homer nights that you’ll see. Yeah, he had two dingers but look at what the score was when he hit them! Poor, poor Joey Votto.

While Villar’s two-homer day may have come as a bit of a shock, I’d say that a hitter who was going into Thursday’s games with a slash line of .305/.384/.514 and a .306 TAv would eventually have a two-homer day at some point in the season. Yesterday was the day for Correa.

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Houston was also the site of some exquisite defense, as both the Astros and A’s were out there committing robberies on each other. Matt Joyce set the tone in the first inning with this piece of baseball theft.

Jake Marisnick repaid the A’s in kind once the third inning rolled around by making a catch against the wall in left center.

We only needed to wait another frame before another robbery occurred, and the culprit this time was Adam Rorales.

Finally, Jose Altuve capped off the day of theft by making a difficult basket catch in shallow center field, and so ends the defensive showcase in Houston.

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Don’t look now, but Corey Kluber appears to be hitting his stride in a big way. He went into Thursday’s start with a 3.24 ERA, 2.35 DRA, 2.63 FIP, and 77 cFIP. Excluding the ERA, all of those numbers are pretty close to what he posted during his Cy Young-winning season in 2014, and they received a nice boost after the start he had against the Rangers. He finished the day with just three hits and one run allowed over eight innings, which included a whopping 12 strikeouts as well.

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Thursday saw Father Time possibly claim a victory over Bartolo Colon, but while he may have had his icy claws on the 44-year-old pitcher, the 43-year-old Ichiro Suzuki claimed a tiny victory with this exquisite catch in foul territory. Again, it’s a tiny victory (he went into this game with a TAv of .196, after all), but it’s a victory nonetheless.

Defensive Play of the Day

Kevin Pillar is good at defense. That’s not breaking news or anything, but it’s still stunning whenever he adds another lovely highlight to his resume. That’s exactly what he did on Thursday night when he slammed into the wall to rob Ruben Tejada of a big hit.

What to Watch on Friday

The Astros finished their game with the A’s at around 4:19 pm local time. Nearly seven hours later in Chicago, the Yankees began their game against the White Sox. The White Sox don’t have to worry about a road trip to face the AL’s best team on very little rest, but the Yankees sure do. After dealing with this episode of Baseball After Dark, the Yankees will travel down to Texas to play the Astros.

Part of Houston’s welcoming party for the travel-weary Yankees will be Lance McCullers, who has given up only two runs and two walks over the last 12 innings, and also threw seven shutout innings against New York back in May. Let’s just say that it’ll be very impressive if New York manages to come out of this game with a victory today.