When MLB was drawing up ideas for how the 2020 season was going to be played, they originally floated an idea of a bubble, either within the spring-training regions or in some other format. That was ultimately scrapped for the regional-exclusive schedule played out in every stadium, but the commissioner’s office has had the idea of a bubble in the back of their heads since.
Now, they’ve confirmed what many expected will happen — MLB will institute a bubble environment for the postseason. It’s a bit more complex than the ones that the NBA and NHL have instituted for their respective playoffs, mostly because of the expanded playoff field that MLB introduced for this season, but after the Wild Card round it functions very similarly to the NHL’s bubble system up in Canada. Here’s an outline that MLB produced:
The 2020 @MLB Postseason will begin with the AL Wild Card Series on Tuesday, 9/29, while Game One of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas will be played on Tuesday, 10/20. pic.twitter.com/KSzWMSAcBk— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) September 15, 2020
There’s a lot to dissect regarding a decision like this, so let’s break it down point-by-point.
Did they need to do this?
In all likelihood, yes. After a wild west-type scenario where two franchises — the Marlins and Cardinals — had massive team-wide outbreaks early into the season, postponements for positive tests have been sporadic and contained. These types of delays simply can’t happen in the postseason, however, so moving towards a bubble to prevent them is a smart move.
Did they make the right choice with site locations?
This is where I hesitate to outright endorse the move. With two sites necessary and three main geographic regions vying for them, someone was going to be left out. Watching the AL side of the playoffs exclusively being played in Pacific Standard Time will be a pain, and I’m sure the western teams would say the same about playing exclusively from New York if that were the choice.I am surprised, however, that MLB ended up choosing Los Angeles as one of the locations.
Looking purely from a baseball perspective, California is the ideal bubble location, with the most major-league ready fields in close proximity. This makes the logistics of preparing an entire half of the postseason there much easier, but there is a very real concern about the quality of conditions on the West Coast right now. Air quality is at unsafe levels due to massive amounts of fires and other climate factors, and several games have already been affected by this. The postseason is weeks away, and this is an issue that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. As we’ll talk about further in a bit, MLB is pushing for a tight schedule for the postseason, and this could have a major impact on whether things stay on track or if they fall apart.
How will the players be affected by this?
This plan will require teams to be sealed up for weeks, up to nearly six weeks if they make it all the way to the World Series. That’s no small commitment, and we’ve seen players from the NBA talk about how the bubble has affected them from a mental perspective. On top of that, there was plenty of grumbling about how they had to be separated from their family for this time. The NBA remedied this somewhat by shipping family members into the bubble after the startup period, but MLB is trying to get ahead of this scenario.
Family members, domestic partners and guests will be allowed to stay at a separate hotel from the players, and then enter the bubble after a seven-day quarantine. MLB has made provisions for players to quarantine from their homes during a two-week transition period ahead of the postseason if they need to stay with children or spouses in need of assistance. This is a decision that complicates setting up the bubble, but should be worth the hassle. It’s unclear if these conditions were extended to coaches as well though, which would seem unfair if they didn’t but would also further expand how difficult it would be to prepare.
How does the new schedule look?
The playoffs will be fast-paced, and I’m not talking about the game speed. Part of the agreement cut down on off days for the LDS and LCS, since travel days would no longer be needed mid-series. This could get complicated in a number of ways, including factors we’ve already mentioned like the coronavirus and air quality concerns. It also directly impacts how the postseason will play out — the lack of off days will force teams to rely on more starting pitchers than normal.
This is another portion of the agreement that I am surprised went through, since it seems like this changes how organizations will have to structure themselves for the postseason without much time to prepare. An additional pitcher on the roster may become more of a necessity than a luxury, since it will become vital to have pitchers that can soak up multiple innings. If there was any opposition to this change it was clearly overruled, but this seems like something that was unnecessary to change in the first place.
How will this impact the Yankees?
Let’s put this all together, shall we? The outlook for New York is much like the rest of the league in that it will be unusual, but so much of this season has already been unusual. It is important to note that the Yankees have not fared well outside of Yankee Stadium this year, and while they aren’t going to play in true road games either it’s something to consider.
The condensed AL bracket will also test one of the team’s glaring weaknesses — pitching depth. There was already concern about how strong the Yankees’ top three pitchers would be. Needing a fourth starter and potentially a fifth will be a massive strain on their ability to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen. As we’ve seen in the last couple of postseasons, having an elite bullpen can be quickly neutralized by needing to go to the top arms over and over again. This year’s edition of the ‘pen isn’t as strong as years past, and there will be less rest available to them. That’s a new concern that Aaron Boone will have to maneuver around, and it can definitely be a factor with such a small margin for error.