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A few thoughts on what the 2020 Cubs and MLB schedule could look like

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And, more on how MLB hopes to keep players healthy.

One thing’s for sure about the 2020 Cubs schedule. It won’t look like this

Presuming MLB’s plan to begin an 82-game season on or around July 4 comes to fruition, the schedule won’t look anything like the original 2020 schedule released last summer. To simply begin with the July 4 games would make for unbalanced loads for teams, perhaps an uneven number of games. and also result in more travel than MLB has in mind.

What MLB desires for its 82-game slate is for the matching divisions to play each other, and only each other. This is supposed to reduce travel. It will, to some extent, though as I have noted, even limiting travel to West vs. West, Central vs. Central and East vs. East will have some cities far apart (Boston/Miami, Seattle/San Diego, etc.). Further, there’s no guarantee that every club will wind up in its home ballpark. Some could wind up in spring training parks — even the Cubs, if the city of Chicago is declared not ready for empty-ballpark baseball in July.

Here’s one way to arrange an 82-game schedule if teams are playing only nine other clubs, all in their own “quadrant” of the country. MLB has said they want to keep the current divisional structure and league separation, so the way to do it is for each team to play 13 games against every one in their own division (52 games) and six against each team in the other league’s comparable division (30 games). In other words, 13 vs. the Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds, six vs. the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Twins and White Sox. Two of the four N.L. teams would have six home games vs. the Cubs and two of them would have seven.

How would that team do? At Fangraphs, Dan Szymborski ran some simulations and has the Cubs as N.L. Central champs — though not by much, a 45-37 record to 44-38 for the Cardinals and 43-39 for the Brewers and Reds. 45-37 is equivalent to 89 wins in a 162-game season, which doesn’t seem too far off.

There are some who are still pushing for teams to play some doubleheaders to get the game count up closer to 100, but I suspect if we do have a season, it’ll be this 82-game plan.

Now, how are players going to be kept healthy during this shortened season? Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal has some more details, including how testing is likely going to be done:

One of these people said MLB believes it can gain access to the tens of thousands of kits required for this without taking tests away from frontline workers or clogging up hospitals and wouldn’t proceed if that weren’t the case. It will be able to do that, this person said, by partnering with the lab in Salt Lake City that runs its performance-enhancing drug program to turn it into a coronavirus testing center. That facility, the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, would handle baseball’s testing, as well as provide additional capacity for the general public.

The way I read this, MLB’s partnership with this lab will allow it to produce extra testing capability that wouldn’t otherwise be available. This is a good thing and accomplishes two things: 1) getting enough tests for MLB personnel and 2) creating extra testing capacity for people outside baseball.

Diamond goes on:

MLB is relying on players, coaches and umpires to use caution and limit their contact with others outside their workplace. Within the workplace, everyone would also maintain some level of social distancing to reduce the opportunities for transmission of the virus.

Under baseball’s suggested strategy, the apparent goal is to be able to quickly spot and interrupt any contagion, thereby mitigating how many people get sick, not to prevent any single one of them from getting the virus while at work.

I mean... this involves a great deal of trust. Trust that MLB players and other personnel would be smart about limiting their contact to people outside the game and their families. MLB apparently doesn’t want to have to shut everything down if one person tests positive:

Under the current proposal, MLB wouldn’t shut down the league if somebody got sick. Instead, the person who tested positive would be removed from the population. Those in contact, but still asymptomatic, would be monitored more closely. MLB is also discussing ways to allow players, umpires and coaches from an at-risk group—either because of age or a pre-existing medical condition—to not participate in the season.

Under baseball’s proposal, the game would look considerably different—and not just because there would be no fans in the seats. High-fives and spitting potentially would be banned. So would mound visits. The locker rooms, dugouts and bullpens would be arranged differently to allow for social distancing. (One possibility involves having relief pitchers sit alone in the stands unless they’re warming up.)

Newsday’s David Lennon interviewed Dr. Bernard Camins, Medical Director for Infection Prevention for the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, and found quite a different take on what could happen if an MLB player tests positive:

“Is it going to be successful if the rest of the community or the rest of the country is still experiencing continued outbreaks?” Camins said. “Then what will happen is you’re going to have baseball players who will come back positive. And even if they’re not going to get sick — hopefully — everybody who was exposed to that person will be quarantined, right?”

Not exactly. As Camins pointed out, it’s supposed to be for the CDC-recommended 14 days, which would effectively shut down a team and potentially wreck the season. But MLB intends to isolate positive cases and keep playing — a response much different from that of the Korean Baseball Organization, whose contingency plan calls for halting operations for three weeks.

We are only about four weeks from the time — mid-June — when MLB wants to start a “Spring Training 2.0” and about seven weeks from the date that the 82-game season might begin. There are still many unanswered questions. MLB’s health and safety document, said to run nearly 100 pages, is supposed to be delivered to players by the end of this week — which would be in the next day or so. Once the MLBPA has a chance to read and respond to it, we should have a better idea of whether this shortened 2020 season will work, or not. And after that, there are still financial issues to be considered.

Once again, I ask that if you make any politically-oriented comments, keep them focused on baseball and non-partisan.

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