By Nathan Tucker
St. Louis’s beloved baseball team has been doing a lot of nothing lately. Just five games into the shortened MLB season, the Cardinals were forced into quarantine, following a handful of positive tests while the team was in Milwaukee for a series against the Brewers, a division rival.
The Cardinals won two and lost three of their opening five games before the pause. Since then, at least ten players have tested positive for COVID-19, and a number of team staff has as well. The team has not played a baseball game since July 29.
Rumors of how this spread has occurred have been abounding online and in local and national media. Unlike the Marlins, who had to miss almost a week of games but resumed play after their positive tests, the Cardinals are now going on two weeks without playing baseball, and the team doesn’t actually know when they will play baseball again. Because of this, the blame game is being played amongst fans and media alike.
Many are quick to blame players who have voided the MLB’s rules and precautions. Rumors swirled about a casino and strip club trip that has been flatly denied by several players, including Cardinals veteran hurler Adam Wainwright.
Some have pointed to Kolten Wong’s Milwaukee golf outing as a potential COVID-19 spread-starter. A picture surfaced online of Miles Mikolas and Jon Gant renting a pontoon boat at Carlyle Lake in exurban St. Louis, fueling more speculation. Mikolas is not playing for the remainder of the season already, needing surgery on his throwing arm.
The list of positive-case Cardinals includes star catcher Yadier Molina and all-star shortstop Paul DeJong, along with eight other players and seven more team staff members. Carlos Martinez was put on the 10-day Injured List for “unknown” reasons. Some have speculated he may have tested positive as well, but no confirmation one way or the other on Martinez’s true status has been given.
Some of those positives have had symptoms so prevalent that they required a trip to the emergency room, said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt on KMOX radio Sunday. Team president John Mozeliak confirmed as much but said neither the staffer nor player who went to the ER had to remain hospitalized.
Shildt explained further in his KMOX interview that no one is planning on leaving or opting out of the season:
“There are people that have symptoms, and have had a few visits to the ER for some IVs and a little more clarity,” Shildt said during the radio interview. “Nobody has had to stay. But there are people dealing with — I mean, this is real. And people are experiencing a lot of the symptoms that we hear about that are associated with this. A variety of them. Most of them are experiencing multiple ones. Seems like they rotate with them. And again, nobody is in close to any critical shape, but people are having to deal with some things that aren’t comfortable at all.”
With players and staff actively still dealing with effects and symptoms of COVID-19, the team has canceled this past weekend’s games at home against the Chicago Cubs and canceled this week’s series against the Detroit Tigers. As of this writing, the next scheduled Cardinals game is Friday, August 14, but at the moment John Mozeliak isn’t guaranteeing anything.
When asked, via Zoom call on Aug. 7, if the Cardinals would complete the 60-game schedule planned by MLB this season, Mozeliak was frank.
“Mathematically, it would seem challenging to me,” Mozeliak stated. “But I’ve not really thought through all of that yet today.”
As of this coming Friday, August 14, when the Cardinals are currently slated to start playing again, they have 55 games to play on their schedule in 45 days. Even with playing doubleheaders and scheduling games on planned off days, it would be an incredibly tough ask for a baseball team to play that much baseball in that given time.
But MLB commissioner Rob Manfred still believes the Cardinals should be playing baseball this season.
“I absolutely see a path back for the Cardinals,” Manfred said in a phone interview with the Post-Dispatch on Monday afternoon. “That is dependent on getting enough days with no positives that we’re comfortable that we don’t have any contagion risk. But 100 percent I see a path back.”
“I think whether you get all the way to 60 or not, that’s difficult at this point,” Manfred said. “I think that they are going to play. I think it’s possible for them to play enough games to be credible, to be a credible competitor this season.”
During his interview with the Post-Dispatch, Manfred never defined a minimum threshold of games to be played to be considered “a credible competitor”. Neither MLB nor Manfred has yet to distinguish what qualifies a team for that title.
Under the current MLB plan, or lack thereof, a Cardinals team that only plays half of their scheduled games could feasibly make the playoffs over a team that plays all 60 scheduled games by way of win percentage. For fans of simple math, a 16-14 Cardinals team would have a better win percentage than a 31-29 team.
The Cardinals and MLB are only in this predicament because of the league’s unwillingness to entertain a “regional bubble” concept that is now being examined by the league for the playoffs.
Since MLB’s COVID plan boiled down to “space out the locker rooms and dugouts and hope for the best”, the league has had more postponements and more players testing positive than three other major sports leagues in bubbles combined.
If you’re a Cardinals fan and you want someone to blame for the Cardinals not playing right now, don’t blame the players who went out of their hotels or apartments or whatever else. Blame the league that refused to take COVID-19 seriously enough and is now paying the price because of it.