At least the Cubs got to try out that new extra-inning rule. They even got five innings of scoreless baseball from their much-maligned bullpen before the weekend was done.
But where does the hottest-starting team in the National League go next?
Nobody could be sure Sunday as worsening COVID-19 news swirled around the Cardinals during the Cubs’ extra-inning victory over the Pirates.
Various reports suggested as many as four more Cardinals players and staff tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday night, in addition to the four confirmed cases from earlier in the week. That led to another round of testing Sunday to confirm the results of the potentially positive cases — all playing out five days before the Cubs are scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis.
“I would imagine that we’re probably not playing those games this weekend. But I can’t fully speak to that,” veteran pitcher Jon Lester said.” That’s just my opinion. Maybe there’s a way where we flip the schedule around where we’re playing somebody else. I think guys right now just want to keep playing.
“It sucks that we’re dealing with this, but it’s the nature of the beast right now. The league I’m sure will alter the plans going forward. If we’re in St. Louis on Friday, we’re in St. Louis on Friday. We’ll figure it out, and we’ll try to beat the Cardinals and move on to the next day. But right now, as of today, I don’t see that happening.”
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The Cardinals already have had four days of games postponed — the second team to deal with an outbreak after the Marlins had 18 players test positive in the days following their opener in Philadelphia. The Marlins haven’t played in a week. Their outbreak prompted MLB to juggle the schedules of other teams impacted by the Marlins shutdown to allow them to keep playing during the week.
If the Cardinals news doesn’t improve fast, it could mean a much tougher decision for commissioner Rob Manfred, who in recent days had pledged to persist with the season, even if it meant teams would finish with different numbers of games played.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said on Saturday his conversations with MLB and officials from other teams in recent days offered no sense of clarity on the viability of play during the first-week crisis — even as MLB mandated safety compliance officers for each team and stressed greater adherence to protocols.
“I don’t think there’s any consensus,” Hoyer said. “Our experience so far has been positive, and based on what I have viewed this is absolutely survivable. But our experience hasn’t been the rule.”
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The Cubs are the only team in the league that hasn’t had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago — though star third baseman Kris Bryant has self-quarantined since reporting a stomachache to team officials Saturday. He has continued to test negative, was said to feel better Sunday, and might be cleared to play Monday or Tuesday depending on the results and timing of two more tests.
Whether the 7-2 Cubs and everyone else have a season to keep playing by the time he were to return — much less a Cubs-Cardinals series to play Friday — remains in flux.
Depending on how widespread the Cardinals’ outbreak becomes, the Cubs might already have faced a higher risk series in their sweep of the Pirates — who faced the Cardinals five days before taking the field at Wrigley.
“Those are the kinds of things you start thinking about during this,” Hoyer said. “You’d be crazy not to start thinking about the number of days and making sure that [the Cardinals’] outbreak is under control. I think you have a right to have those concerns and ask those questions.
“That’s probably the area that I’m focused on right now, is that as they test, the positives have to stop before we can really have a sense of what we’re dealing with.”
Until then, the team that has looked impressive against the Brewers, Reds and Pirates — and even better in containing the virus within its bubble — could be on the brink of having all its best laid plans and early performance wiped out by teams outside their bubble and factors beyond their control.
“You don’t want to see something go down just because of, I guess, a couple teams,” said Kyle Schwarber, who drove in his sixth run Sunday, threw out a runner at the plate in the 10th and has an .851 OPS so far. “Hopefully, this is something quick [with the Cards]. Hopefully, there’s able to be a fix and they’re able to keep the season going.
“It would be a disappointment just because you see the group in here, what we’ve been doing,” he added. “We’ve been responsible in everything that we’re trying to do because we know we’re part of something greater here.”
That’s about doing their part to make sure a two-month season and playoffs can be completed during a global pandemic as much as it is about doing what they can to still be one of the teams playing at that point.
The Cubs say all they can do now is show up Monday for their game against the Royals until or unless they hear otherwise.
“You can’t worry about Team ‘X’ testing positive three or four or 10, 11 times,” Lester said. “We have to worry about what’s in front of us.
“And if the commissioner comes and says we’re done, then we’re done. And if he says play on, then we play on.”
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