Cardinals’ positive tests, postponement create another coronavirus crisis for embattled MLB

The Cardinals’ game Friday night in Milwaukee, which was to be the Brewers’ home opener, was postponed, MLB announced, and will be made up as a doubleheader Sunday; the teams’ scheduled game for Saturday remains on at this point.

The rescheduling, MLB’s statement said, “is consistent with protocols to allow enough time for additional testing and contact tracing to be conducted.”

Still, that means six teams, or 20 percent of the league, will sit idle Friday due to coronavirus-related postponements: the Cardinals, Brewers, Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals. The Cardinals’ cases involve two St. Louis players, according to a league official.

The Cardinals’ samples that produced the positive tests were most likely taken in Minneapolis, where St. Louis played the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday (they were off Thursday). However, Friday night’s Twins-Cleveland Indians game was still on as scheduled as of Friday morning; the Indians played at the Twins on Thursday night, using the same visitors’ clubhouse at Target Field that the Cardinals had used the night before.

The Marlins remain baseball’s biggest concern, with 17 players and two coaches having tested positive this week. Both the Marlins and Phillies — who hosted the Marlins for three games last weekend and have seen three staff members test positive in the days since — have been shut down since July 26 and will not play again until at least Monday.

Following the Marlins’ outbreak, Commissioner Rob Manfred told MLB Network it was not a “nightmare” scenario, and the league planned to move forward with tightened health-and-safety protocols and a makeup schedule likely to be packed with doubleheaders — which would feature seven-inning games, under a new rule agreed to by the league and the players’ union Thursday night.

“We built protocols anticipating that we would have positive tests at some point during the season,” Manfred said. “The protocols were built to allow us to play through those positives. We believe the protocols are adequate to keep our players safe.”

But multiple, separate outbreaks in different regions of the country could test the sport’s collective optimism over finishing the 2020 season. Until Friday, baseball had reported zero positive tests among players — outside of the Marlins — since July 24.

With both the Marlins and Cardinals outbreaks having apparently occurred while on the road, the sport’s decision to contest a 60-game season with teams in their home markets and traveling between cities — a model that was questioned by many epidemiologists and health experts, who believed the “bubble” models utilized by the NBA, WNBA and MLS had a better chance of succeeding — has come under renewed scrutiny.

MLB considered various bubble models in the early stages of planning for a 2020 season, but met resistance from players over the notion of isolating for months at a time away from family members, and ultimately decided it was too unwieldy to house 900 rostered players plus staff — and contest an almost-every-day sport, requiring numerous stadiums — within one or more bubbles.

MLB’s swift postponement of Friday’s Brewers-Cardinals game was also a tacit acknowledgment that the Marlins-Phillies game on July 26 — which went forward despite the Marlins having reported four players testing positive by that point — should never have been played. Absent any guidance from MLB that day, Marlins players and staff discussed the wisdom of playing, but said they never seriously considered not taking the field.

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