TORONTO – Every day brings about another redefinition of attrition in baseball amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with positive tests and scheduled games lost replacing the usual rhythm of player-injury-to-roster-move churn.
The postponement of the Toronto Blue Jays’ weekend series in Philadelphia after the Phillies, exposed to the outbreak-struck Miami Marlins last weekend, came up with two novel coronavirus cases Thursday, is the latest bit of chaos for a sport increasingly winging its path forward.
For those counting, the Phillies and Marlins now both have at least seven games to make up, with the Blue Jays three behind, which would be problematic under normal circumstances, but all the more so in a 60-game season shoehorned into 67 days.
The Blue Jays and Phillies, for instance, have just two off-days in common, on Aug. 20 and Sept. 14, although they are due to play again Sept. 18-20 at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y. Making up for this weekend means a lot of doubleheaders in a compressed time frame, which is why seven-inning twin-bills are coming, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to stage seven-inning doubleheaders starting Aug. 1, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 30, 2020
First, though, the Phillies need to get back on the field, something MLB “will co-ordinate with health experts and the Major League Baseball Players Association,” it said in a release. Any reputable health expert is sure to recommend a 14-day isolation period for both the Phillies and Marlins to cover the virus’ incubation period, which would only further expand the fallout.
Meanwhile, both the Blue Jays and Washington Nationals, who won 6-4 Thursday in the final meeting between the teams this season, will spend the weekend in D.C. working out at Nationals Stadium. The notion of adjusting the schedule for them to play each other didn’t gain traction because of balance concerns.
All of it is gross before you even consider the health ramifications, including the oft-ignored matter of whether disease is being vectored by baseball into the general public. Between integrity of the schedule, competitive fairness and the legitimacy of results, each improvisation brings about a new set of questions moving forward.
“It is a lot of uncertainty,” Blue Jays reliever Jordan Romano said of his team’s predicament, a statement that applies league-wide, too.
Still, Major League Baseball is determined to bulldoze its way to the pot of gold waiting on the bridge from the regular season to the playoffs with the same stubborn constancy that’s a badge of honour in the usual 162-game grind.
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo dropped the usual bromides about staying positive amid trying circumstances “because negative stuff doesn’t help anybody,” and while he’s not wrong, there’s a difference between complaining and acknowledging pandemic realities.
Trying to play a season while remaining within the general population of a country in which COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming pace increasingly looks like a recipe for disaster. May’s hopeful vision can’t be executed in July’s dire circumstances.
“I don’t know. Because I don’t know how the other teams are,” Montoyo replied when asked if he questioned whether the season is still a good idea. “I don’t want to go that far because I don’t want to speculate. I know we’re following the guidelines and hey, it could happen to any team at any time, as you can tell. We’re going to keep playing, we’re going to be ready to play until they say we can’t play.”
At this point, the Blue Jays know they can’t play this weekend, and they’ll fly Sunday night to prepare for their next action Tuesday in Atlanta, another COVID-19 hot-spot. Typically teams plan in chunks of the season, but that’s not happening now.
“I was ready for the Phillies, we had everything ready, matchups and that’s not going to happen now,” said Montoyo. “The main thing to do is to go day-to-day and make sure Saturday and Sunday we have live BPs to try and keep guys sharp for Atlanta. That’s our game-plan for now.”
The Blue Jays took the field Thursday knowing only that they were no longer taking a bus afterwards to Philadelphia, where several players expected to reconnect with family.
Even that simple act is a production, as loved ones seeking to meet up with players must first produce a negative test, said Montoyo. Travis Shaw, away from the team for a family matter, was also to rejoin the team in Philadelphia, but now he too must wait for a decision on where to go next, not to mention test negative twice before re-entering the team’s loose bubble.
Major League Baseball is expected to implement further changes to the health and safety guidelines governing clubs, including adding a compliance officer to each team and mandating isolation at hotels on the road.
Montoyo was all for the former, saying that was one less thing for the coaching staff to worry about, and said while he expects the latter to arrive, his Blue Jays already do that.
“It’s a hard situation,” said outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, who hit two homers Thursday. “I try to stay in my room, not going out, not just for me but for my teammates and for me team.”
The Phillies, who like the Blue Jays had an outbreak at their spring facility at the end of June, were careful, too, but that’s obviously not enough.
Major League Baseball has sought to paint the Marlins’ outbreak as a Marlins problem — easily corrected with better behaviour. It’s not. Really, it’s a math problem, a matter of probabilities which outside a bubble contains too many uncontrollable variables.
Barring a substantive change to how the season is being staged, the new attrition is a fact of life everyone is signing up for.