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The Thursday Takeaway

We’re down to the very last few games of the season, somehow. Every season is 162 games long, but somehow it feels like 2016 has moved especially quickly. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about Trevor Story, and now, most of the playoff field is set.

The Cardinals are one of the few teams still jockeying for position. They’re in the middle of a three-team Wild Card hunt, with the Mets somewhat firmly entrenched in the first spot. To keep the Giants at bay (pun unintended), St. Louis will essentially need to win out. With the lowly Reds in town on Thursday, their task wasn’t especially difficult.

Yet with two outs in the ninth, the score was tied at three runs apiece. The Cardinals had just blown it in the top of the inning. It was shaping up to be yet another bad loss in a Wild Card race that nobody seemingly wants to win. St. Louis has struggled at home this year, and the sparsely populated stands at Busch Stadium told the story of just how eager fans were to come out to watch a parboiled product.

Yadier Molina strode to the plate with a man on first base. Molina has been the fan favorite for some time now, their own personal MVP. He made some hard contact, bouncing a ball off the warning track onto a videoboard just above and behind the padded wall. Theoretically, that’s a ground-rule double at Busch.

Theoretically, the Cardinals shouldn’t have won the game on that play. But they did.

Theoretically, the play should have been reviewed, and the Cardinals should have had runners on second and third with two outs. A number of things happened so that this did not come to pass.

The rules state that if the final play of a game is to be challenged, it needs to be done so immediately. What this really means is that if the umpires screw up at doing their job, the responsibility lies with the managers to fix it.

On one hand, this makes sense. Bryan Price should have been on top of this as soon as it happened. It’s his job to know the ground rules of every park his team plays in, and he should have jumped out of the dugout much quicker.

On the other hand, there are four umpires, and surely at least one of them realized that the call to end a game with drastic playoff implications for multiple teams was wrong and should have been reviewed (the umpires can initiate these) or flat-out reversed. MLB has drunkenly careened through their replay system ever since it was instituted for more than home runs, and this is the most glaring proof yet that improvements are desperately needed.

Quick Hits from Thursday

One of the best things about baseball is that there has to be a winner. There has to be! There’s no protocol written into the game for extended ties, and the game will go 25 innings if it needs to. It may take the better part of a century, but damn if there won’t be a winner. That’s how it works.

Except for on Thursday.

The Pirates and Cubs played a game that lasted six innings and ended with a 1-1 score. It was impacted by heavy rain, but was not scheduled to resume at a later date. It ended in a league-mandated tie.

This is largely because the Pirates are already out of it, and the Cubs have already clinched a playoff spot and the best record in baseball. There’s no point in rescheduling when the season ends on Sunday, and the result of the game won’t impact other clubs.

But it feels wrong to have a tie. That’s for other sports, not baseball.

The NL Central is a weird place, apparently.

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OK, fine, the whole league is weird. Ubaldo Jimenez entered his start on Thursday with a 5.71 ERA, despite a 2.86 mark in September. He faced the Toronto Blue Jays. Their whole schtick is beating the other team into submission with their power bats. Jimenez tends to give up home runs and smaller varieties of extra-base hits. There’s no reason that the Jays shouldn’t have scored approximately 275 runs.

They scored zero runs.

Jimenez threw just short of seven innings of shutout ball, and the strong Baltimore bullpen did the rest. The Blue Jays and Orioles are now tied for the Wild Card, with the Mariners and Tigers hot on their tails. This will go down to the wire.

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Nolan Arenado is the best defensive third baseman in baseball, and has a case to be the best defender in the game, period. He is a highlight reel with a name, pulse, and 40-homer power. In a world without Kris Bryant, he’s the National League MVP, Coors Field or not.

Everyone has their off-kilter days, though.

Johnny Cueto executed a fairly good bunt, and in a bit of a Keystone Cops moment, Arenado and Jon Gray didn’t communicate about who was going to field the ball. That led to a rare rushed play from Arenado, and an even rarer two-run bunt.

Hell yeah.

Defensive Play of the Day

Nori Aoki is a bit of an adventure in the outfield. His routes to balls can best be categorized as “eccentric,” and his throwing arm is the equivalent of a dying quail trying to reenact the “falling with style” scene from Toy Story. But, that doesn’t mean he’s not fun.

What to Watch on Friday

Well, here we go. We’re now in the final series of the year, and it’s make-or-break time. The Blue Jays are going to do their damndest to hold on to a Wild Card spot, but they’ll need to go through the first-place Red Sox to do it. The first game of the series will feature Marco Estrada and Rick Porcello.

Coming off their totally legit and not in any way lucky break win, the Cardinals start a series with the Pirates. The Pirates have been eliminated, and the Cardinals may have finally realized that they need to win games to get into the playoffs. It’ll be Tyler Glasnow for Pittsburgh and Carlos Martinez for the Cards.

Then, for our West Coast evening game, we have a doozy. It’s an old-fashioned throwdown between the Giants and Dodgers, featuring Rich Hill and Madison Bumgarner. That’s nearly as good as it gets. Let’s see if Yasiel Puig looks at Bumgarner at any point in the night, and if the San Francisco bullpen can avoid going up in flames.