Major League Baseball appears to be having a needed epiphany.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday night that the league is considering a postseason bubble format after tempting fate all year with travel. The NBA and NHL have deployed this model to great success. Now, MLB, despite its perpetual obstinance, is apparently looking into the idea.
The thought of a multi-city, neutral-site postseason is not new. Max Scherzer floated the idea in part back in late March when speaking with NBC Sports Washington and the consideration of a longer regular season remained.
“I think once you get into playoffs in November, those games have to be at neutral sites,” Scherzer said then. “Playoff series at the beginning of November have to be neutral sites because you have to be able to guarantee weather. The teams in the north, once you get into November, the weather can be too cruel for baseball. So, this isn’t a permanent thing. But this is just what we have to do to be able to play baseball and try to get as many games in.”
He was speaking while still holding hope for more games. Even if the season started late. Scherzer was thinking through what it would take to play a full, or almost full, regular season after spring training was shut down. What he did not see coming was a wasted three months while the union and league vociferously haggled. The wasted time flushed any chance of a reasonable regular-season length. It also moved out the idea of playing in November.
But, the premise holds. Weather, even in October, needs to be a consideration. The key component is guaranteeing the postseason games take place in as much of a controlled environment as possible. Money is the largest reason baseball is being played in 2020. And, the most money comes from the television rights during the postseason. Without the postseason cash cow, most of the other components in this bizarre season would be a waste.
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The expanded playoffs become a complication when considering the restriction of sites. Sixteen teams will enter the watered-down postseason. Putting them all in two places -- Los Angeles and Anaheim, for instance -- would be problematic. Though, three should work.
There is no reason to force postseason games into the home park of the higher seed. The stadium is empty, travel is the highest risk factor, the regular season was played in these spiritless venues. Bring everyone to one place.
San Diego, Los Angeles and Anaheim all make the most sense to deal with the best-of-three wild-card series. Three “bubbles” to start. Then two when the division series begin -- essentially what the NHL is doing. The Northeast and Midwest should be left out for weather reasons.
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The regular season ends Sunday, Sept. 27. The wild-card series are scheduled to start the following Tuesday, per usual. The league should bump that date. Sunday and Monday would be the days to travel and test. Tuesday could be a second day to test. Wednesday or Thursday would be the day to begin, knowing everyone is clear, settled and the environment is controlled. Because of the location, delaying the start -- and subsequently extending the finish -- is moot. The World Series is currently scheduled to end Oct. 30 at the latest. So, if the opening postseason date is moved by two days, and the World Series lasts six games, it would end Oct. 31. It has no impact at the end.
The sport has spent much of 2020 being unreasonable. Arguing incessantly for three months in the middle of a global pandemic was astonishingly tone deaf. Forcing travel when baseball resumed was headshake worthy. The league can be forgiven in some ways because it had no example to work from. That was the most common response: this has never happened before. Here, they have a high-functioning model staring them in the face, time to work with and, seemingly, some ambition to replicate what works. Though the pervasive question remains whether they can actually get it done.
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