The challenge reminded Anthony Rizzo of the minor leagues. The Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreak had overhauled their pitching staff as they headed into a five-game series against the Cubs this week.
“We have done a good job communicating in the dugout right away when a guy gets in, whether he gets a hit or he gets out,” Rizzo said, “what the guy has, the shapes of his pitches.”
As many hurtles as the Cardinals are up against, as they make up over two weeks of postponed games and reinforce a roster hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, they present a unique test for the Cubs in this five-game series. This month, the Cardinals have called up 10 different pitchers from their alternate site.
“You’ve just got more guys that you’ve got to dive into,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “It’s a little bit of the unknown.”
It’s the job of advance scouting assistant directors Nate Halm and Brad Mills to take those dives. For many of the Cardinals’ pitching staff additions, the most recent film on them was from the minor leagues. Playing five games against the Cardinals in three days guaranteed that the Cubs would see several new faces on the mound.
In the second game of Monday’s doubleheader, for example, the Cardinals went without a traditional starter and instead pitched six relievers. Three were rookies. Two of them were making their major league debuts.
“Can’t get ahead of yourself,” Rizzo said, “just because there are so many new guys that you haven’t faced, and you can go crazy looking at all of them.”
This season, the operations manual bans communal video terminals, taking away one of tools the Cubs would have used to get familiar with a new pitcher in a normal season. Instead, their main video tool is an iPad.
“I know they miss the video and being able to see whether pitches are executed, and where catchers may be set up, and stuff like that to see how you might get pitched,” Ross said. “That’s a huge process now in our game that we can go to, but the communication is the second-best thing right now and they’re doing a great job of talking in the dugout and trying to come up with a game plan.”
Watch the raucous dugout closely, and you can see it, whether it’s Jason Heyward stopping by the on-deck circle after crossing the plate, or two players' heads bowed towards each other.
“I think the main thing is you trust in your guys when there’s uncertainty on the other side,” Ross said.