When Mike Trout returned to the Los Angeles Angels Tuesday after six days of paternity leave, he found Major League Baseball in turmoil, with 25 players from two teams in isolation because of the coronavirus.
His own team was 3-7, one of eight squads with seven or more defeats and also having suffered the loss of Shohei Ohtani again as a pitcher for the remainder of the season because of a right arm injury. Like the Angels, all of those teams are already on the brink now with less than 50 games remaining in a 60-game season, abbreviated by the pandemic spreading across the U.S.
“It’s definitely scary for baseball,” Trout said. “I’ve been saying this the whole time—it only takes one person. If you’re asymptomatic and you don’t know you have it, you can get it on a plane Thursday or Friday and don’t get tested until you land from the flight. On Sunday, you get your positive. It would be a mess.”
As MLB players travel around the U.S., they are tested every other day with results turned around in 24-48 hours. The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League reported this week that none of their players tested positive within their respective bubbles. MLB revealed Friday that 141 on-field personnel – 111 of them players – have tested positive since the process began on June 27.
Hoping to avoid more outbreaks, MLB advised the teams that suspensions for the season could be issued if players don’t adhere to the health and safety protocols, and that officials at hotels and clubhouses will monitor any violations.
After the birth of his son, Trout could’ve opted out. He doesn’t need the money and trouble with 11 years remaining on a $426.5 million contract that was prorated to pay him $15 million of his $37.6 million this season. But Trout, 28, rejoined the team in Seattle. He homered three times as the Angels won two of three games since his return.
Nineteen players and 11 umpires have already opted out, most recently Lorenzo Cain and Shelby Miller of the Milwaukee Brewers, Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets, and Isan Diaz of the Miami Marlins. The Marlins have 18 players and three coaches in isolation. They resumed play Tuesday night at Baltimore, proceeding to win four games in a row over the Orioles after missing seven.
The St. Louis Cardinals also missed seven games after seven players and six staff members tested positive.
After an eighth player tested positive, MLB announced the postponement of Friday night’s home game against the Chicago Cubs as the league said it would do additional testing and contact tracing. When those tests revealed that two more players and a staff member also tested positive, the remainder of the three-game weekend series was also postponed, meaning the Cardinals will have 55 games to play in the remaining 49 days to complete their entire season by Sept. 27.
The Field of Dreams game, slated to take place in the cornfields of Iowa next Thursday, was canceled after so many Cardinals tested positive. They were supposed to play the Chicago White Sox, who were told to wait until next season if the virus dissipates and there’s a semblance of normalcy. MLB will find an applicable opponent.
The Marlins had to replace their COVID-infected players with a group from their alternate camp. They have four open days in their schedule to make up the games they missed, and are a surprising 6-1. On Thursday, MLB announced that in September the Marlins will play seven games against the Philadelphia Phillies in five days.
“As an organization we have to pay the price, bottom line,” Derek Jeter, the Hall of Fame shortstop and Marlins chief executive, said this week. “We’ve been given the opportunity to hit the reset button, and moving forward, we just can’t make any [more] mistakes here.”
Those are the inequities of a campaign that started four months late and will lead to four rounds of playoffs among 16 teams—eight in each league—if they can get there.
The Marlins and Cards must dig out of a deep hole, but this week could dictate the tale for a third of the league. At this juncture, there are 10 teams with eight losses or more: The Mariners, Angels, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals in the American League; the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League. Thus, the next group of games will make or break their seasons.
“That sense of urgency belongs to me,” said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, before his team showed a pulse the last two days by coming from behind to defeat the Houston Astros. “That’s the bigger picture I don’t want [our players] focusing on.”
MLB and the players’ union agreed Thursday to play the remainder of the season through the playoffs with a roster of 28 players, 29 for doubleheaders. That’s down from 30, but two more than the originally designated minimum of 26 at the end of the month. The taxi squad expands from three to five players. That’s another nod to the spreading virus.
“I think they got it right,” said Dodgers manager David Roberts, whose club with nine wins is at the opposite end of the spectrum along with the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs. “Getting it down to 28 is more like baseball as we know it. The expanded taxi squad gives everyone coverage. I think they nailed it.”
Trout had mentioned earlier in the training period that he was conflicted about playing this season because of the pending birth of his baby boy, who with the name Beckham Aaron Trout, ironically has the initials, BAT, an unintended nod to the three-time and defending American League MVP. He’s no less conflicted now.
“Obviously, Jessica is worried,” said Trout, referring to his wife. “There’s a lot of things that go through your head when these things happen, when you’re reading all this stuff. The Angels have been safe. I feel safe here. It’s sad to see what’s happened with the Marlins and the Cardinals, but everyone on our team has been accountable. I feel like it’s been good so far.”
That can change very quickly, though, as he, the Marlins and Cardinals know all too well.
(This story has been updated with details of additional positive tests and postponements for the Cardinals in the ninth paragraph.)