Having been sidelined for more than two weeks by an outbreak of coronavirus, the St. Louis Cardinals have finally been cleared by MLB to return to the field Saturday in Chicago – where they will begin a grueling, six-week slog, heavy on doubleheaders and short on off-days, to make up most if not all of the games they missed.

The Cardinals last played on July 29. Two days later, MLB confirmed an outbreak that grew over the ensuing days to include 10 players and eight staff members testing positive. The Cardinals have played five games in 2020, entering Friday, while some teams have played as many as 20.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals have rented 41 cars for the 41 members of their traveling party to drive themselves to Chicago, where they will play a doubleheader against the White Sox – with both games lasting seven innings, per a new MLB rule for 2020.

In all, the Cardinals are scheduled to play eight games in Chicago over the course of five days, including doubleheaders Monday and Wednesday at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. All told, the Cardinals could play as many as 11 doubleheaders before the season, squeezing 55 games into 44 days, in an effort to get as close to 60 as possible.

The Cardinals are presently scheduled to finish with 58 games, but they could play an additional doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on the day after the official end of the regular season, if those games are necessary to determine playoff spots or seeding.

“Obviously, when you look at our schedule … it’s daunting,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak told reporters on a video conference. “Everybody would agree it’s not going to be easy. But if this team clicks, it’s going to be very good. And that’s what we believe … We’re going to approach this as if, candidly, we’re getting a second chance.”

The Cardinals not only have played zero games in more than two weeks – they have barely practiced in that time. They spent six days self-isolating at their Milwaukee hotel when the outbreak first occurred, then went back to St. Louis by bus, where they worked out twice, only to return to self-isolation at their residences when the outbreak grew. The second quarantine lasted seven days.

Once they return, the Cardinals are expected to be without several stars, including catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong, who are among the players who tested positive during the outbreak. Willie McGee, the former St. Louis outfielder who is now a coach, has opted out, according to the Post-Dispatch. But among the intriguing roster moves the Cardinals made was to call up top prospect Dylan Carlson.

Assuming no unforeseen setbacks, Saturday will also mark the first day since July 26 – the fourth day of the 2020 MLB calendar – that all 30 teams will play on the same day. An outbreak among the Miami Marlins cost that team seven games in late July and early August, and the Cardinals outbreak followed on its heels.

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