If you get the sense that it’s increasingly unlikely that MLB will be able to play their typical 162-game regular season because of COVID-19, you’re probably on to something.
There is a growing sense among baseball executives that a best-case scenario for the sport would be an 81-game regular season beginning around July 1 and a postseason in October. There is also a fear among some that the 2020 season might be canceled in its entirety.
81 games, of course, is only half the length of a normal MLB season. The dynamics of a season that is a sprint, not a marathon, would create for an entirely different dynamic than anything we’ve ever seen. Each individual game really would matter. A bad week or two could sink your playoff hopes.
Given that the documented number of cases of Coronavirus continue to rise in the United States – especially in major cities – planning for the season to start in early July might represent some sense of realism. Under baseball’s best-case scenario plan where the season begins in early June, round two of spring training would begin in mid-May. Will baseball – and the country – feel good enough about the direction of COVID-19 to be able to return to preseason in mid-May? You can be the judge.
Whether the season starts in June or July – assuming it does start – baseball probably does need to consider where the postseason will be played. There have been a few straight mild winters, but if the Phillies were to reach the World Series, would baseball be prepared to bank on northeastern weather in November or December to host the World Series? Probably not.
In DiGiovanna’s piece, super agent Scott Boras lays out his plan to play as many games as possible, opining that the World Series be played at a neutral site. Passan suggested Wednesday that such an idea may not be out of the question. But what is a neutral site? Dodger Stadium almost certainly could host a World Series in November or December from a climate sense, but it’s hard to think of the stadium as neutral, especially when the Dodgers are the odds-on favorites to win the National League. Tropicana Field is a dome, but it’s also home to the Tampa Bay Rays, who won 97 games a year ago and could theoretically reach the World Series in 2020. Perhaps somewhere like Olympic Stadium in Montreal or Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan could serve as a truly neutral site. Of course, COVID-19 would have to be essentially wiped out in a given area by some point in the summer for baseball to feel comfortable planning on a neutral-site World Series there.
While people in and around baseball are beginning to voice concerns with how many injuries there could be in a season where baseball doesn’t really get going until the middle of the summer, it’s also fair to think about the consequences of an 81-game season on the future of baseball. A year ago, Aaron Nola made 34 starts in a full season. If you ask him to only make 15 or 16 regular season starts in 2020, but then ramp back up to a full workload of 30 plus starts a year from now, you would seemingly be asking for trouble. And that would be applicable for just about every pitcher in the sport.
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