The Cubs played the first of four games in four days against the Royals on Monday night.
But it was impossible to miss the COVID-19 cloud looming on the schedule Friday in St. Louis.
“It’s in the back of our minds,” manager David Ross said.
The Cardinals remained quarantined in their Milwaukee hotel Monday as this week’s series in Detroit was postponed and they dealt with a growing number of players and staff testing positive for COVID-19 — up to 13, including seven players.
The next game on the Cardinals schedule would be Friday against the National League-leading Cubs, although that series remains at least in significant doubt while the Cardinals continue to test daily and contact trace in an effort to determine the extent of the second big coronavirus outbreak in the majors since the season opened.
In fact, the Marlins — who had 18 players test positive over several days last week — were expected to resume their season Tuesday after a weeklong shutdown, leaving the Cards as the latest, biggest threat to MLB’s efforts at staging a two-month season and postseason during a pandemic.
And leaving the Cubs to brace for what might be their highest stress, if not highest risk, part of the season yet.
“There is a little bit of uneasiness to it,” third baseman Kris Bryant said.
If anybody has a right to feel uneasy about taking the field against a team that has even one potential carrier of the virus, it’s Bryant and the Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive since the process began more than a month ago.
The Cubs are taking the virus and safety protocols so seriously that Bryant was sidelined for two games because of a stomach bug that seemed nothing like a COVID-19 symptom to him — but that the team’s medical staff determined was worth the extra precaution of isolating him and putting him through extra testing.
All his tests were negative, and he returned Monday to hit a double and home run against the Royals.
“It’s a better-safe-than-sorry kind of mindset,” Ross said.
MLB has stepped up its emphasis on adhering to protocols through memos and other communication with teams over the past week, including upgrading from a suggestion to a mandate that members of traveling parties remain in hotels unless going to the ballpark.
This amid a growing number of reports that Cardinals personnel went out in Minneapolis on their first trip.
“As far as more rules, more restrictions, more guidelines, there’s definitely been talk about it," said Ian Happ, the Cubs’ union rep, who doesn’t seem to know what more the Cubs are expected to do.
“From the latest that I’ve seen, the Cubs are exceeding what the current guidelines are and would be well within compliance with what future guidelines or ordinances and restrictions would be.”
That includes a team policy that already restricted players and staff to hotels when not on the road.
“We had a really good discussion with Rossy at the beginning of Summer Camp,” said Happ, who, like Bryant, said the bigger issue raised in discussions among the Cubs was behavior at home.
“Because Chicago’s the best city in the world,” Happ said. “Chicago is the city where you could theoretically do all the things that we’re talking about not being able to do. Everybody was on the same page as far as what was acceptable and what was not acceptable — how important it was for us to stay healthy and the effect that you would have on your teammates, your teammates’ families.”
How a Cardinals team with strong veteran leaders such as Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina — and a front office led by admitted germaphobe John Mozeliak — would be one of first two teams with a significant outbreak the first week of the season makes about as much sense as three-batter minimums for pitchers and baseball without spitting.
“It’s a unique year,” Ross said.
A year with its season at a major crossroads less than two weeks in. And with a Cubs team in the possible coronavirus crossfire after doing even more right off the field than it has during an 8-2 start on the field.
“The actions of one guy don’t affect just the team, don’t affect just the city, but they affect the entire league,” Happ said of the Cubs’ approach. “It’s important to remember the gravity of that.”