Cubs

Why Cubs' serious, effective approach in COVID-19 pandemic might not be enough

Why Cubs' serious, effective approach in COVID-19 pandemic might not be enough

Giants catcher Buster Posey is a three-time champion, six-time All-Star and former National League MVP.

Is he a Hall of Famer? That’s the big question, right?

Not anymore. Not after Friday, when he officially opted out of playing baseball during a pandemic.

That changed the big Buster Posey question to whether he’s baseball’s smartest guy in the room.

On a day the Cubs delayed their workouts for the second time in a week over COVID-19 testing issues, Johns Hopkins University reported a single-day record of new coronavirus cases (more than 63,900) for the United States for the second consecutive day.

It’s two weeks until major league openers.

Posey, who expressed concern for the past week, was open about his decision, citing the risk when it came to the premature newborn twins he and his wife have adopted and who remain in a neonatal intensive care unit.

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He’s one of 11 players who have chosen not to play this season. Others such as superstar Mike Trout of the Angels — whose wife is due with their first child next month — continue to straddle the fence on whether to play.

And players such as Cubs star Kris Bryant expressed concern and anxiety over MLB’s first-week testing problems and at one point considered opting out before deciding to commit to trying to play.

MORE: Why Kris Bryant doesn't feel 'safe' and why his voice should matter most to MLB

“We’re taking every safeguard that we possibly can, and I’m proud of the way the players have been responding,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein, whose team is the only one, at least in the National League, without a positive test among players or coaches since intake testing began.

“But we can’t let our guard down, and we can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can control all the variables here.”

The variables, and certainly the risk, are constantly changing.

In Florida, one of the hardest hit states for coronavirus surges, Miami-Dade County reported an astounding 28-percent positive rate for its Friday test results — down from 33.5 percent Thursday.

That, of course, is the home of the Miami Marlins.

Two more of the hardest hit states across the sun belt, Texas (105) and California (149) reported one-day records for coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday.

They are home to seven more big-league teams, including Posey’s and Trout’s.

Again, it’s two weeks until major league openers — when teams leave their individual safe zones and start to travel.

Will Trout still want to play by then? Will Nationals closer Sean Doolittle? The Brewers’ Ryan Braun? Or anybody else who has dipped one toe into this experiment as they’ve talked publicly about their concerns and reservations?

And just how tight will MLB’s testing ship — and shipping of results — be by then?

The Cubs by all appearances are doing it right, from masks in the clubhouse and dugouts to social distancing and meetings among players to discuss being accountable to each other and staying out of bars and restaurants when they’re away from the field.

But what about the cluster of positives among the Phillies, or the startling virus rates in Arizona — or that one player in Cleveland who decided to party without a mask during the holiday weekend?

“That’s the reality of living in this country in 2020, is you’re never divorced from concern, no matter what you’re doing,” Epstein said. “Whether you’re home with your family or running errands or working from home or trying to pull off a baseball season in the middle of a pandemic, the subtext of everything that you do is concern.

“Not just concern for yourself, not just concern for your families, but concern for your teammates, your colleagues, your brothers and sisters, your community, the country as a whole and the world as a whole — although certainly the rest of the world has seemingly managed their way into a better place at the moment than we have.”

As countries through much of Europe and parts of Asia have effectively mobilized at a federal level to stem the spread of the virus, the United States has experienced a summer surge within what experts consider the first of possibly multiple waves of the pandemic, the death toll climbing past 135,000 — close to twice the total of Brazil, which has the second-highest number of virus-related deaths.

“We don’t have a huge margin for error,” Epstein said of the league’s safety and health protocols designed by the only major professional league trying to play games at all of its home sites. “As we move forward, as we continue to try to pull this off, we have to continue to find a way to keep our players safe and healthy.”

Against a moving target. Without any way to know what direction it might take tomorrow, much less August.

“The virus is the only thing in control right now,” Epstein said.

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How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.

“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”

With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.

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The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.

Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?

Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.

“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”

He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

 Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.

“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”

Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.

“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”

Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”

The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.

“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”

Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.

Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..

“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”

The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.

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How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.

“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”

With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.

Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?

Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.

“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”

He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

 Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.

“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”

Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.

“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”

Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”

The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.

“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”

Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.

Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..

“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”

The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.