The Confusing Logic Puzzle of Scheduling Pandemic Baseball

The MLB schedule feels less like a commitment now and more like a mere suggestion. It is a promise to try to play baseball where it is most reasonable to do so.
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Monday’s game between the Phillies and Yankees was not supposed to happen.

There was supposed to be a Monday game between Phillies and the Yankees—last Monday, in Philadelphia. But that game never happened. None of the Phillies’ games that originally were scheduled for last week happened. The team has spent the last eight days in limbo, unsure of exactly when and where it would see the field next, after the misfortune of playing the Marlins amid an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Phillies have not had anyone on their own roster test positive for the virus. (Three staff members did; however, two of those were later announced as false positives, and the third could not be definitively connected to the Marlins.) This, in and of itself, is potentially encouraging: It suggests that an outbreak on one team will not necessarily spread to its opponents. But little else here can be described as encouraging. The Phillies have spent the last week in abeyance—reasonable, under the circumstances, but still exasperating. While Philadelphia waited to see when it would be clear to return to the field, their chances of playing a full schedule this season all but vanished. (Technically, it’s still feasible, but it would require 57 games in 56 days with no further cancelations or postponements.) Their pitchers’ workouts were scrambled: How do you determine who throws a bullpen session when you have no idea when your next game is going to be? It presented both an injury risk and an affront to the idea of any sort of competitive integrity. And, of course, there were teams affected other than the Phillies: If one club has an outbreak, baseball realized this week, there are ramifications for the schedule of its entire divisional bubble.

It is a situation that would have been profoundly weird in any other baseball season. Now, it’s just the cost of business—the cost of trying to play pandemic-ball—and it will happen again. The Cardinals are now grappling with an outbreak of their own that threatens to disturb the AL and NL Central just as the Marlins’ has disturbed the AL and NL East. The MLB schedule feels less like a commitment now and more like a mere suggestion: There will be games, probably, if not between the teams that were originally meant to play or in the city that those teams were meant to be in. It is instead a promise to try to play baseball where it is most reasonable to do so, which, depending on your perspective, shows either admirable flexibility or an indication that none of this is sustainable.

And it’s confusing. So here’s a rundown of all the games that could have been, and were supposed to be, for the Phillies and Yankees on Aug. 3, 2020:

• The Original 162-Game Schedule’s Aug. 3: Yes, this one has been off the table for a while now. But still, for the sake of meticulousness, we’ll note it here. Once upon a time, in the original version of this schedule—the non-coronavirus version—there was a different idea for these teams on Aug. 3. The Yankees would have been playing the White Sox, and the Phillies would have had the day off to travel back from the West Coast. What a vision!

• The Original 60-Game Schedule’s Aug. 3: Now, of course, New York cannot play Chicago, and no club can go from the East Coast to the West. In the first week of July, then, a different plan was issued for these teams. The Yankees were supposed to be playing the Orioles in Baltimore, and the Phillies were supposed to be enjoying a travel day from Toronto to Miami. Less than a month later, however, just about every piece of that sentence seems ridiculous: The Orioles are coping with a shaken schedule of their own and are about to welcome some version of the Marlins, Toronto has no baseball, and Miami is, well, you know.

• Everything After: Which leads us to all that has happened in the last week. The Phillies’ initially scheduled postponements were supposed to be just a day or two but stretched longer as the league tried to ensure their safety. (Players and staff sometimes found about the particulars of each day on Twitter.) While the Yankees waited for the Phillies, they set up an impromptu series against the Orioles, who had previously been scheduled to play the Marlins, and that obviously wasn’t happening, so why not?

The Phillies’ return was pushed to Saturday against the Blue Jays, but after the trio of staffers who tested positively, that was taken off the calendar. The Yankees picked up their schedule as originally planned with a weekend series against the Red Sox. And then, finally, some more changes were finalized: The Phillies were clear to return beginning on Monday, though it seemed unreasonable to have them play the Marlins, who previously had been scheduled for a series against them beginning on Tuesday. The Yankees were available, as their previously scheduled opponent was the Orioles, but they’d just played the Orioles. So there it was: Phillies-Yankees, spontaneously added to the schedule to start on Monday. (Until, of course, there was an announcement that the first game of the series would actually need to be canceled, which was later overturned—which means that, yes, a game that wasn’t even officially on the schedule was scratched.)

So, at last, after satisfying a series of conditional statements that might as well have been ripped from a logic puzzle, the Phillies played the Yankees on Monday. Gerrit Cole made his first home start in Yankee Stadium. Jake Arrieta made his first start of 2020. After a brief rain delay, New York won, 6-3.

Tuesday’s game was canceled in advance of an oncoming storm—because of course it was! But the two teams will be back for a double-header on Wednesday.

We think.

Quick Hits

• Mike Soroka is out for the season after tearing his Achilles’, an unfortunate blow to the Braves.

• Jacob deGrom got... run support? In addition to a stellar outing of his own?

• Johnny Cueto’s delivery remains one of baseball’s most delightful oddities

• After struggling in each of his first two starts, Shohei Ohtani has been diagnosed with a flexor strain and will not be able to throw for four to six weeks, which suggests that he’ll likely be confined to DH-ing for the rest of 2020. But at least that bad news was immediately followed by something positive: Top prospect Jo Adell has been called up and should make his debut on Tuesday.