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Pandemic Baseball Chronicles: And then COVID came for the Reds

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Another team in the NL Central is dealing with a potential outbreak.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cincinnati Reds
The Reds celebrate a Joey Votto walkoff on August 11
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The novel coronavirus pandemic is ubiquitous and MLB’s health and safety protocols are clearly not enough to keep it out of clubhouses. The Cardinals returned to action today with a doubleheader on the South Side of Chicago and on Friday there was hope that this weekend all 30 MLB teams would play for the first time since Opening Weekend.

Hopes of that continuing were dashed by this news late Friday night out of Cincinnati:

It is impossible to know what the implications of this positive case are at the current time. For starters, players control whether their test results are public or not, and the Athletic’s reporting indicates this players name is private. That means we don’t know if this player was sitting on the bench socially distancing, or right in the middle of the mix. We also have no way of knowing what the Reds protocols are like in the clubhouse or how careful players are being with each other.

While you all know I think this pretty clearly means the Reds and Pirates should be shut down until the 14-day incubation period passes, it seems like MLB will do everything they possibly can to have a shorter shutdown for the Reds and/or Pirates. Additionally, while I think it’s pretty foolish, I doubt the Pirates will have a shutdown at all beyond this weekend. I hope they exercise caution in returning to Pittsburgh. If anyone was exposed by playing the Reds, putting the whole team on a plane is pretty much the worst possible idea. As of now, Saturday and Sunday’s Reds/Pirates games are postponed, but they hope to play Monday:

The Reds will hunker down in their home town, and if you are so inclined it appears Trevor Bauer intends to vlog this experience:

The Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals will return to play for the first time since July 29 with a doubleheader against the White Sox today, which began at 12:10 CT. After a prolonged shutdown due to positive cases that emerged after the team traveled from Milwaukee to St. Louis via plane they decided to drive to Chicago separately this time in 41 different cars. I applaud that move and hope whoever is arranging the Pirates transportation this weekend took notes.

There is still a sense of uneasiness surrounding the team, however:

This will be the first of three doubleheaders in five days for St. Louis. Al covered that in detail yesterday, so I won’t belabor that conversation other than to say I am running a poll on Twitter to gauge fan reaction here and 100 votes in it’s pretty mixed:

What is a season?

The Wall Street Journal had a must-read article Friday that highlights one of the biggest issues pandemic baseball faces going forward: What constitutes a credible season?

As the St. Louis Cardinals’ coronavirus-induced hiatus passes the two-week mark, Major League Baseball must now wrestle with an unsettling question: What exactly constitutes a credible season in 2020?

A recent outbreak of cases across the organization has all but ensured that the Cardinals won’t complete their 60-game schedule. Their last 13 contests have been postponed, or roughly 22% of their entire slate. They haven’t played since their series finale in Minnesota on July 29, after which they flew to Milwaukee, where they learned of their first two positive tests.

Even if the Cardinals return to action Friday—the current hope—they would have to squeeze 55 games into a 45-day window. No amount of seven-inning double-headers could overcome that.

It is an obviously important question and one MLB doesn’t seem to want to answer — just like every other hard question during this season.

I get it, MLB’s continuing refusal to provide specific numbers, timelines, and thresholds is a deliberate strategy to maintain Rob Manfred’s flexibility in making decisions. It is also a mistake. People need information and guidance to make the best decisions for their players and staff. The need for accurate information is higher in a time of crisis, not lower. Preserving the flexibility of the Commissioner’s Office increases the chance that front offices will make incorrect decisions and put people at risk. I think that cost is too high and I don’t think the Commissioner’s Office has done anything that indicates they deserve this kind of trust or authority on decision-making in the pandemic.