It took only four days for MLB’s season to erupt. As the Marlins grapple with a widespread coronavirus outbreak, the rest of the baseball community is wrestling with the notion of playing on amid a pandemic.
The “right” think to do may seem obvious to you, but regardless of your opinion, commissioner Rob Manfred sure sounds like he and the owners are hell-bent on trudging forward. Two games were postponed Monday night: Marlins-Orioles in Miami and Yankees-Phillies in Philadelphia, where the Marlins are currently quarantining while they await test results. Manfred said in an interview Monday night the soonest the Marlins would play is Wednesday in Baltimore, which potentially erases two of their games from the schedule.
Even with the playoffs open to everyone and their local Little League team this season, a Marlins-Orioles series isn’t likely to have playoff implications. But Yankees-Phillies sure does. That game will likely be made up this week as part of a double header. But a schedule shakeup so early in the year due to COVID-19 raises the question: Is MLB heading toward a scheduling disaster in 2020?
To be clear, this is not among the most important questions facing Major League Baseball or close to it. It’s a completely trivial matter when lives are at stake.
Teams are tasked with playing 60 games in 66 days. Six offdays is some, but not much, room for flexibility. It feels even more constrained when considering the recommended quarantine of two weeks–not two days–for anyone who has been in contact with an infected person. Not to mention the usual bouts against weather-related delays and postponements that will alter the schedule. More importantly though, if another club faces a widespread outbreak and needs to stop playing entirely for a period of days or weeks, will the sport stop and wait for them? Or will it accept further schedule inequities in a season already full of them?
These questions are wound tightly to one of the most common inquiries being flung at Manfred: What will it take for baseball to stop? This is what he told Dan Patrick earlier this month:
In an interview Monday night on MLB Network, Manfred agreed there is a critical mass, or in other words (my words), a certain number of positive tests, in which the league would shut down part or all of the schedule but offered no specifics.
It’s important to remember, as outlined by SI’s Stephanie Apstein, just how incentivized both the league and the players are to seeing this season through to the finish. Hundreds of millions of dollars in postseason TV contracts are on the line. As for players, they’re only getting paychecks if games are being played.
Could those motivations lead us down a path where playoff seeding (or worse: a playoff spot) must be decided between two teams that shared no common opponents and saw one team play six or eight or even 10 games fewer than the other? It’s hard to see how that doesn’t happen. It’s hard to see how the Marlins end up as baseball’s only COVID-19 outbreak. It’s hard to see how MLB reaches the finish line in 2020.
Eight weeks from now, if the regular season is wrapping up as planned, don’t waste any energy being angry about your team getting screwed by another club that played fewer games. Just a handful of games into the season, it's already worth wondering how severely unbalanced schedules will change the playoff field, not if it changes it.
• Ready for Angry Mike Trout? This call ended the game with Trout at the plate as the tying run.
• Sounds like the Red Sox have bigger problems than a lineup without Mookie Betts. They lost again Monday night, this time to the Mets, after losing a season-opening series against Orioles.
• Jon Lester didn’t allow a hit in his five-inning start in the Cubs’ win over the Reds Monday night. By 2020 standards, maybe that will go down as an actual no-hitter.
• For all The Office fans out there: