What Happens to MLB Playoff Plan if West Coast Air Quality Doesn't Improve?

John Hickey

What we know about the proposed Major League Baseball schedule is that MLB seems to be all-in on making sure players, staff and their families will be quarantined for the final three rounds.

Families will be allowed to quarantine with players for a week heading into the Division Series and will remain in the bubble and everyone in the bubble will be tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

But one of the two bubble sites is Southern California, and it’s not clear that much thought has been given to non-coronavirus problems.

The West Coast currently is a mass of fire and smoke. The air quality index in Seattle, where the Mariners hosted the A’s for a doubleheader last night spiked to 283 Monday night, according to published reports.

The AQI was at 241 at 1 p.m. (PT) Tuesday, hours before the San Francisco Giants and Mariners were due to start a series in T-Mobile Park. That game was scratched an hour later and the two-game series was moved to San Francisco for a Wednesday start, leading some to wonder if the Monday doubleheader should have been handled the same way.

The AQI scale runs from 0-500, with 0-50 being considered good, and 51-100 being moderate. When you get to 151-200, that’s unhealthy and 201-300 is very unhealthy to all individual with a recommendation to avoid strenuous outdoor activities. A reading of 301-500 is considered hazardous.

MLB doesn’t have a set AQI index trigger that stops a game from going forward. Rather, an MLB spokesman said “we advise clubs that they should speak with their local health departments … for guidance on how to proceed.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked if the subject of delaying one or both of the games because of the bad air, and he said it hadn’t been. He suggested it was his impression that an AQI of over 200 should set off some triggers.

Up and down the coast, finding air that isn’t actually harmful is becoming more problematic. On their last homestand, the A’s hosted the Rangers in a game where ash from fires was in the air and settle on seats throughout the Oakland Coliseum.

At the same time, Sept. 10, the Giants were going through much the same thing, with manager Gabe Kapler commenting on just how dark the sky was when the sun should have been expected to have been shining.

The National League series being played in Texas at Arlington and Houston have access to roofs that can be closed. Not so in SoCal.

What will happen Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego, the two bubbles in which the American League playoffs will be held, get smoky? Midday Tuesday the air quality index (AQI) in Los Angeles was 161. That’s in the red zone, not as bad as it was in Seattle Monday, but unhealthy as such things go.

The air quality in the West could get better before the playoffs get to Southern California Oct. 5, but that’s a little on the optimistic side. The California fire season typically peaks in September and October; the fires that have ravaged California, Oregon and Washington this year have come early, and with disastrous results.

What will MLB do if the AQI is as bad as it was Monday night in Seattle? Will players have their health put at risk? It’s not as if a day off is easily attainable. Both the best-of-five division series and the best-of-seven championship series are down to be played straight through, without time off.

And what about fans? Commissioner Rob Manfred’s plan allows for the possibility of “a limited fan capacity” that wasn’t spelled out but was believed to be as a number in the 10,000 range. With their lungs be put at risk?

Players will probably be of multiple opinions should this become an issue. That was certainly the case Monday night, when A’s starter Jesús Luzardo suggested that the unhealthy air was an issue while Mariners’ center fielder Kyle Lewis, while admitting that the air was bad, said it wasn’t exactly unplayable.

Luzardo: “I mean when I came out, I think (the AQI) was at 284. I’m a healthy 22-year-old, I shouldn’t be gasping for air, or missing oxygen, when I’m getting to the line. So, I’ll leave it at that.”

Lewis: “We definitely noticed that the sky was all foggy and smokey. It definitely wasn’t a normal situation, definitely a little weird. It’s kind of hard for me to speak on it because I don’t really understand the nature of the smoke in the air and whatnot and how that works. It was just kind of weird, definitely a bizarre day.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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