I honestly think the Cardinals are through the worst of it.
Of course, I’d have probably said that last Friday, right before more cases were discovered and another week wound up being wiped off the calendar. Still, while I have no problems with those cancellations given the situation, it does seem like that might have been much more of an abundance of caution than anything else, at least from what we know. It seems like Ryan Helsley and Austin Dean were some of those rare folks that take longer to show signs of being infected, but that they were infected at the same time as the rest of the team. So there’s not a new point of origin. (Lane Thomas might be a more recent recipient of the disease, but that seems like it’s only because he shares an apartment with Helsley.)
There was concern, of course, that the two infected players then rode back via airplane with the rest of the team, but did you see the pictures that Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong shared about getting on that flight? They were wearing scrubs, masks, face shields, the whole bit. If there was a new round of sick folks after riding on that plane, we’re going to have to take a hard look at all of our protection methods. It seems really unlikely that anyone was exposed on that flight.
Which only leaves the workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Mike Shildt said while they were in Milwaukee that the club was going to try to create an “uber-sterile” environment. Nobody that’s not in the lineup in the dugout. Masks worn. Separation enforced. I don’t know how those workouts went, but I have problems believing that they didn’t take similar precautions there. It would be surprising if there was anything more than incidental risk there.
With all the tests coming back negative and the likelihood that (at least from baseball activities) there has been no new spread point, I feel pretty good about seeing baseball this weekend. Right now, the Cardinals have a plane leaving Friday morning for Chicago. While I wouldn’t completely rule out the idea of Friday’s game being turned into a doubleheader on Sunday, depending on when the team returns to the field (and, again, to have caution after traveling), I’d be really shocked if that entire three game series didn’t get in and we didn’t start seeing a return of regular Cardinal baseball.
And we will be getting our fill of it, for sure. As the schedule stands now, there are two days off between the return of play this weekend and the end of the season. It seems very unlikely that the club will make up all of their games, but if they did they’d play 55 games in 45 days. What would that look like? Maybe this (italics games not currently on schedule):
August 14-16: at White Sox
August 17-19: at Cubs
August 20-23: Reds
August 24-26: Royals
August 27: DH vs. Cubs (makeup of Aug 7-8)
August 28-30: Indians
August 31-Sept 2: at Reds
Sept. 3: DH at Tigers (makeup of August 13 DH which was a makeup of August 3-4)
Sept. 4-7: at Cubs, with a DH on one day as Cards as home team to make up August 9
Sept. 8-9: Twins
Sept. 10: DH vs. Tigers
Sept. 11-13: Reds
Sept. 14-16: Brewers (two doubleheaders)
Sept. 17-20: at Pirates, with three days made into DH with Cards as home team
Sept. 21-23: at Royals
Sept. 24-27: Brewers, with one DH and Brewers as home team in one game
That would mean 1) no off days at all for the Cardinals and 2) we’d see 10 doubleheaders between August 27 and September 27. Not even taking into account extra innings, the Cardinals would average almost 11 innings a day in September. However, that would allow them (especially if they play Friday instead of a DH on Sunday) to work their way back to full health before running the gauntlet of double headers.
Baseball’s not likely to make that happen, though. We’re already seeing so many injuries on pitchers that are on regular rest and schedule. The (non-COVID) health risks on a schedule like that are pretty strong as well. While I know some people are in the “they are professionals” camp, they are still human beings. Trying to play that many games without a break is a real challenge. Even with that schedule, you have to hope for no rainouts (which, as we get into September, are a bit more likely) and that no other team in the central has to suspend play for virus-related reasons. Given what we’ve seen from the Indians’ pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger, that might be asking a lot.
There’s something enticing about that schedule from a fan standpoint, isn’t there? After months of no games, we could see more concentrated baseball than we’ll ever see again. Momentum has never been a thing the Cardinals are good at, but if you could get on a roll, you could make up ground (or create space) in a hurry. The hitters would probably be able to get into a groove quickly with all the at bats. The Cards would almost always be playing with a 29 man roster, given the extra player you can bring up for a doubleheader. If the team caught fire and played on adrenaline, it could be a remarkable thing. Of course, the odds of them having anything left by October are pretty slim, though the playoffs would seem relaxing after a schedule like that.
All that assumes health, though. I see in the news today that New Zealand, this model country who hadn’t had any cases in over 100 days, a small island that should be able to police things, now has new cases. They may stamp it out quickly, but somehow, even in a place that it shouldn’t be, things have become an issue again. To paraphrase Mr. Dameron from the early part of The Rise of Skywalker, “Somehow, COVID-19 returned.” Expecting that it won’t find a way back into some clubhouse, maybe not St. Louis’s but some clubhouse, and cause a real decision on the season might be a bit naive.
That said, right now we’re going with optimism. We’ll see the Cardinals back on our TV screens playing ball this week. If we say it enough, it’ll be true, right?