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More Positive Tests Means More Uncertainty For the Cardinals

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Two more Cardinals tested positive on Friday. What do we know? What does this mean for the rest of the season?

STL Post-Dispatch

The Cardinals received terrible news yesterday. After being cleared to play their weekend series against the Cubs, the Cardinals had three more positive tests on Friday. Two were players – Austin Dean and Ryan Helsley. One was another staff member.

That brings the Cardinals total COVID positives to 16.

You really have to feel for the Cardinals organization. A haggard John Mozeliak met with the press on Friday night to confirm the breaking news and attempt to answer questions about this ever-evolving crisis. You can watch Mo’s press conference here.

What now for the Cardinals? No one really knows.

The club will continue to wait on test results and perform contact tracing on their positive cases. This could help them discover more potential exposures. It’s the virus, though, that is in complete control over all of this.

My purpose this morning – besides group therapy – is to try to answer a few of the immediate questions circulating throughout Cardinals nation.

But, wait, I thought the Cardinals were clear after isolating in Milwaukee?

The club thought that, too. Derrick Goold reported yesterday that the club believes one of the new positives was exposed up to eight days ago:

This kind of incubation period is what makes this virus so sinister. A Cardinal player or staff member could have negative test results and been asymptomatic for almost a week, all the while potentially spreading the disease to anyone they came into contact with.

Remember, the club traveled together on Wednesday.

Does that mean this could actually get worse?

Unfortunately, yes, it could. Contract tracing does seem to indicate that one of the positive tests occurred within the last three days. That means the virus was actively spreading within the organization after their period of quarantine in Milwaukee.

By all indications, the Cardinals have taken extra precautions after this outbreak first occurred, but any time people are together, the possibility of exposure exists.

Let’s just hope and pray that this is the end of it.

When will the Cardinals play again?

At this point, the club is uncertain. The weekend series with the Cubs has been canceled. As of now, next week’s series at home against the Pirates is still on the schedule. If the Cardinals can get a clear path of contract tracing AND isolate certain players that are on that path AND get clean test results over the weekend AND get the green light from MLB, then maybe that series will still happen.

However, the current situation is more like round two of the crisis. If the first round of COVID-positives delayed the Cardinals for over a week, it’s probably safe to assume that this round will do the same. There is a make-up doubleheader scheduled on Thursday in Detroit. You might circle those games (in pencil).

What about the Schedule?

Let’s consider this question in two forms. Mark Saxon, Cardinals reporter for The Athletic, did some calendar math:

55 games in 49 days. Subtract the Pirates series and it’s even more ridiculous. For health and safety purposes, that seems impossible. (In truth, I wonder if there would not be some intervention from the player’s association at that point.)

Mozeliak, who actually does have more important things to worry about right now than the upcoming schedule, suggested it is unlikely that the Cardinals would be able to complete all 60 games this season.

Not making up missed games has huge implications, not only for the Cardinals but for every one of their opponents.

VEB alum charted simple “games played by team” over at Fangraphs. The resulting chart tells the story:

Because of the outbreaks among the Cardinals and Marlins, 7 teams have already had their schedules drastically altered. It seems likely that number will become 9. A third of the league is trying to scrape something together at this point.

I have no idea what MLB will do. My guess is that they will have to default to win percentage rather than win totals to determine playoff positioning.

If the league can even get to the playoffs.

Can the Cardinals Still Contend this Season?

At this point, I don’t know why that would be much of a concern. With 1/3 of the roster having contracted a serious illness and several front office personnel as well (who aren’t young athletes at peak physical health), I think the primary focus should be on making sure everyone is safe and healthy.

That’s it. That’s the goal. Everyone survives and recovers. If the Cardinals get through this with that result, it’s a huge win.

If games are played, even better. I’ll watch and analyze it and celebrate every moment. But, I’m just not going to get caught up with playoff chances.

Hey, JP! Will we see Dylan Carlson now?

You know I had to throw that in there! With Austin Dean contracting the virus, another window is open for Carlson to make his debut with the club. I welcome that, as my regular readers know.

However, the situation is not as cut and dried as it appears. Roster management is a serious concern at this point.

Our own Skyricesq has done a masterful job of tracking all the nuances of this incredibly complex season. We chatted this week and the exact scenario the Cardinals are now facing came up.

Players who go onto the COVID-IL – which Helsley and Dean will surely be added to – do not count against the 40-man roster. That means a club can add players, like Roel Ramirez and Max Schrock, to the 40-man to cover COVID-related roster gaps.

The problem is that once these players are added to the 40, they can’t just be removed again when the COVID-positive players return to duty. The players added to the 40 as COVID replacements have to remain on the 40 or be subjected to waivers.

In other words, when Roel Ramirez was added to the 40 for, say, Junior Fernandez, he must remain on the 40 when Fernandez returns. If the Cardinals try to clear his spot on the 40, another team could claim him.

By my count, including all the players on the COVID-IL, the Cardinals have 39 players on their 40-man roster. If the club were to add Dylan Carlson, which they could do, they would technically have a full roster. That’s not a huge deal, but the one thing the team needs right now in the middle of a pandemic crisis is flexibility, particularly considering the tenuous situation at shortstop and in the pitching staff.

At this point, I would suggest patience. Let’s just see what happens. Let’s see when the first round of COVID-positive players return. Let’s see when the Cardinals start to play again. Let’s get the roster a little more settled. Then we can worry about getting Carlson the innings he needs.

More immediately, I suspect the Cardinals will promote Justin Williams to fulfill Austin Dean’s spot. Helsley’s spot is a bigger question. It’s possible that the Cardinals will just play with 27 players.

If you have other questions — ones I didn’t just make up — then ask them in the comments. I’ll check in periodically all weekend to try and answer. In the meantime. Hang in there, Cards fans! And above all else, enjoy your Saturday!