While the Cardinals were working to keep pace with the Giants for the best record in baseball, the Padres were adding to their already packed COVID IL collection. Fernando Tatis Jr and Wil Myers both tested positive, and now they get to be sequestered just like Eric Hosmer, Jurickson Profar, and Jorge Mateo. A combination of positive tests and contact tracing just wiped out half of their starting position players and created a competitive disadvantage for the next 10 days (or more).
The news falls somewhere between awful and really awful for the Padres, and to add insult to injury the team has a double header at Colorado today. They may need a couple Chihuahuas, some fans, and the emergency goalie to get through it.
Due to the nature of COVID, I'm not even sure how much to sympathize with their plight. It's practically impossible to accurately apportion blame, responsibility, and sheer misfortune. Even with the best, most comprehensive precautions players test positive or fall victims to contact tracing. If some of the players were reckless, violated protocols, or just happened to get lost and find themselves in a casino, I find sympathy difficult to come by. If some Tier 1 personnel anti-vaxxer just peed COVID-19 in the community pool, then I really feel bad for the Padres. What if they somehow miss a division title or the playoffs entirely by just a game or two? Unless they go on a winning streak for the next week, who wouldn't point a middle finger at a period without 3 of their 5 best bats?
From a competitive standpoint, the Cardinals just gained a significant advantage for their upcoming weekend series in San Diego. That's undeniably huge for 2 teams in the top 4 of the NL wild card standings. If that works in the Cardinals favor then they'll simply have to take it because there is no way not to take it. There won't be an asterisk.
This whole scenario applies to every team. If the situation were completely reversed, I'm confident that I'd feel the same because while I don't think it's possible to 100% insulate teams from the impact of COVID that doesn't mean they shouldn't try.
It's a bit callous and definitely ignorant of me to claim that the Padres didn't do everything possible. Same for the Cardinals. However, the Cardinals hit the 85% threshold for relaxed COVID protocols, and they did it a couple of weeks ago along with 3 other teams. The Padres are supposedly close to that magic number, but that's two weeks behind the curve. While the Cardinals are expanding attendance capacity at Busch, the Padres are struggling to get over the vaccination goal line for Tier 1 personnel.
Relaxed protocols aren't just about mask requirements, social gathering/distancing, and chest bumping in the dugout. The relaxed protocol achievement sticker is an indicator that a team has reached a level of risk mitigation that some have not. Whether by lack of effort or uncontrollable circumstance, some teams have separated themselves from others in a way that affects their ability to compete.
How much has COVID impacted the standings thus far?
There is no way to precisely determine this, but a game here or a series there could tip the balance for a team. That's an unfortunate possibility. Baseball in the time of COVID is weird enough, but each day that passes without all 30 teams having reaching the 85% threshold makes it stranger still.
PS: I'm not a medical professional, but I haven't work a surgical mask as a thong yet, so that's good enough. Good luck getting that image out of your head.