Baseball is going into the bubble.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed on details to hold the playoffs and the World Series at neutral sites for the first time ever, the league announced Tuesday.
The World Series would be held in new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, starting Oct. 20, along with the earlier National League Championship Series and an NL Division Series. The American League Championship Series is slated for San Diego’s Petco Park, beginning Oct. 11.
The AL Division Series would be played at Petco and Dodger Stadium, with the other NLDS at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
The format would give MLB some degree of climate control with games played outdoors in California during good fall weather and in ballparks with retractable domes in Texas. Furthermore, the league would also get more administrative control during a period that experts warn could be beset by an uptick in national Coronavirus cases.
As of Tuesday, there were nearly 6.6 million cases and 195,047 deaths in the U.S. related to the coronavirus.
A new best-of-three playoff-opening Wild Card Series among 16 teams will still be staged in the home parks of the teams that win each division, with the second-place team that finishes with the best record hosting the fourth series. There would be no travel in any of those series, which will begin in the AL parks Sept. 29 and the NL parks Sept. 30.
Going by the current standings and with 13 days to go in the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres would host in the NL, with the Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins hosting in the AL.
As previously established, the top two teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, with Wild Card berths going to the two non-qualified clubs in each league with the best records.
All teams would be sequestered for the last week of the regular season for an “intake” period in preparation for the playoffs, with families allowed to quarantine among the players.
MLB is following the lead of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, which thus far have had problem-free playoffs, playing in bubbles without fans in Orlando, Edmonton and Toronto.
MLB, on the other hand, has reported that 55 players have tested positive for COVID-19 during this abbreviated 60-game season. The Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants have had their seasons delayed anywhere from two days to two weeks as players have tested positive and the teams have cleared through the COVIDs protocols, causing 42 games in total to be postponed.
While fans have not been able to attend games this season, that may change for the NLCS, ALCS and World Series, Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday during a “Business of Baseball” event at Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business.
“I’m hopeful that the World Series and the LCS we will have limited fan capacity,” Manfred said. “I think it’s important for us to start back down [that] road. Obviously, it’ll be limited numbers, socially distanced, protection provided for the fans in terms of temperature checks and the like. Kind of the pods like you saw in some of the NFL games. We’ll probably use that same theory.”
The state of Texas earlier this summer announced that sporting events could be played to 50% of facility capacity. Not so in California, where the National Football League opened without fans this past Sunday for games played in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Some fans are expected to attend this Sunday’s NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, which is adjacent to Globe Life Field.
The four LDS will be in the usual best-of-five format, with the LCS and World Series a best of seven.
Traditionally, 60% of gate receipts for the first four games in each of those series would go into a pool of prize money for the players, with money from the final three games (if necessary) going to each of the home teams.
Making it through the postseason is important to MLB since the leagues will be paid the bulk of its $1.7 billion in national television revenue for playing playoff games in October.
This postseason, a $50 million pool to pay the players was established between MLB and the union as part of an earlier agreement to expand the playoffs.