Okay let’s review, in case anyone is confused about how the Cardinals’ season has unraveled. After an open date on July 27th, the Cardinals played a 2-game series on the road in Minnesota against the Twins on July 28th and July 29th. The club believes that someone caught the COVID-19 virus before the club left for Minnesota, and that the virus spread as the team traveled to Minnesota, when the club was together in Minnesota and when the team traveled to Milwaukee.
The Cards then had an open date on July 30th, and on that night, the club learned that at least two people had tested positive, with the results generated from tests taken the day before. From July 31st until Wednesday, August 5th, the club was isolated in its Milwaukee hotel. During that period, the club announced that 7 players and 6 staffers had tested positive for the virus.
There is no mandatory period of team isolation listed in the MLB 2020 Operations Manual upon learning of a positive test. Contact tracing is required, and the clubs have staffers dedicated to that purpose. The players that test positive are required to be isolated, but there is no mandatory minimum period listed in the Manual that dictates how long a team must wait to get together before traveling as a club or playing games.
The CDC has said that the virus has an incubation period ranging from 2 days to 14 days. Suppose one of us was exposed to someone that we knew tested positive for the virus. If an expert at the CDC was asked, they would say to provide maximum possible societal protection, that one of us should probably isolate for the full 14 days.
That is not required by the Manual. Instead, the clubs rely on expert staffers and the Commissioner’s Office to determine when it safe to get back together. In the case of the Cards, the experts felt that on Wednesday August 5th, after 5 days in quarantine and 3 straight days without any new positive tests, it was safe for the Cards to get together and travel back to St. Louis for a workout. MLB has apparently concluded that because of the frequency of access to testing with fast turnaround times and the requirements of club officials engaging in strict contact tracing, clubs may assemble sooner than 14 days after a positive test. Understandably, the Cards, determined to get back on the field, after a long layoff, listened to the experts. The Cards worked out on Wednesday, August 5th and Thursday, August 6th, in preparation for a 3-games series against the Chicago Cubs that was set to start on Friday, August 7th. Ten games had been postponed in the interim.
As it turns out, the experts were wrong. Last Thursday night before the planned Friday start, the Cards learned that there were additional positive tests. It was announced on Friday, August 7th that the Cards had an additional two players and one more staffer test positive. In total, that was 16 members of the organization: 9 players and 7 staffers. The seriousness of the diagnoses varied from no symptoms at all, to low-grade fever, coughs and headaches, to emergency room visits for IVs. As a result, the entire 3-game series with the Cubs was postponed.
The scary part about the new positive tests was that the players were not simply players that had been sent up from Springfield to replace earlier-infected players. Ryan Helsley and Austin Dean were with the Cardinal club the entire time from Minnesota to Milwaukee and from Milwaukee to the workouts in St. Louis. Seeing as how the experts were incorrect about it being safe to travel from Milwaukee to St. Louis, and the incubation period essentially bit the Cards in the rear, there were concerns about the planned 3-game series with the Pirates that was set to start on Monday, August 10th. Mark Saxon of the Athletic tweeted Saturday night that the Cardinals were being told the series with Pittsburgh was unlikely to happen, with Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty denying it.
There were rumblings today that at at least the first game of the series was going to be postponed, and it has now been confirmed that indeed the entire 3-game series with the Pirates has been postponed. In addition, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch tweeted that Lane Thomas, who is Ryan Helsley’s roommate, has also tested positive for the virus. That makes 10 Cardinal players.
At the time when the Cards only had 7 games to make up in their 60-game schedule, MLB had announced schedule changes that called for the club to play 55 games over the course of 52 days. This would have required the club to surrender two of its four scheduled off days and play 5 doubleheaders. Now the Cards have postponed 13 games. The Cards’ next scheduled outing is a doubleheader against the Tigers in Detroit on Thursday, August 13th. If the Cards were going to make up all of their games, they would be required to play 55 games in 46 days. That would require 11 doubleheaders instead of 5.
I have no inside information, but I don’t expect MLB to force the Cards to play their full 60-game schedule. While there are many people calling for the Cards to forfeit these games or to just give up and cancel the season, I don’t expect that will happen either. The Marlins had more people test positive than the Cards did and they pressed on. It is true that they didn’t have the stops and starts and did not have to postpone as many games, and the two situations are different. Commissioner Manfred, however, has gone on record as saying that he is open to teams not playing the full schedule and using winning percentage to decide playoff berths. I anticipate that MLB and the Cards will come up with a reasonable number of games for the Cards to play. Perhaps they will stick with the schedule that was announced before the Cubs’ series was postponed. That would lop 6 games off the schedule for a 54-game slate. Although Manfred said he has not come up with a minimum number of team games that he would deem sufficient, I can imagine MLB being satisfied with 54 games out of 60.
As this twisting kaleidoscope moves, we still don’t know the outlook of the rest of the Cardinals’ season. The longer the club isolates and tests, the closer that the original infected players are to coming back. The club also has to be concerned about injuries, especially to the pitchers, given that our next pitcher will be going on a minimum of 14 days of rest, and that is if the Cards go with Daniel Ponce de Leon. If the club wants Jack Flaherty to start things off on August 13th, he’s looking at 19 days of rest.
Right now, we don’t even know when the club will get together next. According to Goold, the players have been urged to quarantine at home, have been told not to leave their residences unless showing up at Busch Stadium for a drive-thru COVID test, and have been asked to even distance themselves from their families. Goold reports that even John Mozeliak has even sequestered himself into an area of his house and only sees his family in passing. As long as the Cardinals are in that mode, it would be premature to even think about when the next game will be played.
WHAT ABOUT CARLSON NOW?
Before the club announced that Austin Dean and Ryan Helsley had tested positive, I posted an article here that summarized the roster moves the Cards made to accommodate the earlier-infected players and outlined the club’s new 28-man roster. After the Dean and Helsley positive tests were announced, I mentioned that the Cards could temporarily survive a 40-man roster crunch, and predicted that the Cards would recall Justin Williams to take Austin Dean’s place and add either Seth Elledge, Rob Kaminsky or Johan Oviedo to take Helsley’s place. I noted that if Ricardo Sanchez has already been activated from the COVID-19 Related IL, the Cards could still create one more 40-man roster spot by transfering Miles Mikolas to the 45-day IL.
What will the Cards do now to replace Lane Thomas on the roster? Assuming the Cards won’t recall either Sanchez himself, Seijas or Elehuris Montero from the ATS, the Cards won’t be able to avoid a 40-man roster crunch and will have to DFA a player once all the infected members come back. The only way to avoid this would be to recall Sanchez and Williams to take the place of Helsley and Dean, and use the Mikolas-created spot to add a player to take the spot of Thomas.
If the club does not do that, they have one of two choices. It’s almost a given at this point that Williams will be recalled. The club wouldn’t have any backup outfielders otherwise. The choices are, first, to bite the bullet and add Dylan Carlson to the 40-man roster and 28-man active roster. After Williams, Carlson is the only outfielder the Cards have at the ATS aside from Tre Fletcher, who is 19-years old and has no experience above Rookie Ball.
The other choice is to be satisfied with Williams as the only backup outfielder on the active roster and add a 16th pitcher instead of Carlson. This would leave the Cards with only a 3-man bench, which would consist most days of Andrew Knizner, Justin Williams and Max Schrock.
I’m not advocating for either option, and although people might feel I’m in the “Screw Carlson” fan club, I’m not. Three-man benches are far from ideal, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the club added that 16th pitcher, utilized planned piggy-back starts and rotated players in and out from the field to DH to get the Cardinals through at least the first part of this crisis.
Actually, there is a third option and that is that the Cardinals wait a full 14 days between positive tests, and don’t come back to play until August 21st. If they played all the games from that point of the schedule forward, they would be looking at 40 games over 38 days. By that point, the original infected players could come back and there would be no need for any roster moves.
The fourth option, is of course, the nuclear option, which is for the Cards to not play the rest of the season. I wouldn’t predict that outcome at this point, and Goold confimed that the Cards have not yet talked about taking that step. But at this point, it can’t be ruled out entirely.