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A look ahead to the 2020 postseason, which could happen in a bubble

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MLB could learn from the NHL and NBA.

An empty Dodger Stadium could be this year’s World Series host, under one “bubble” proposal
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA and NHL have continued the seasons that were interrupted in March in bubble situations — the NBA at Disney World in Orlando, the NHL in two bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

MLB considered playing the regular season in a bubble, but opted instead to play in home parks. It’s been an unsteady ride, with positive COVID-19 tests for the Marlins, Cardinals and Reds resulting in nearly 40 postponed games.

So it won’t surprise you to learn that MLB is considering playing the 2020 postseason in a bubble scenario. With no fans allowed at games, it wouldn’t matter which parks the postseason was played in. ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan and Jeff Passan wrote this long article noting some lessons MLB could learn from the NHL’s bubbles, worth a read, but I was more interested in this article from SI.com in which several of their writers opined on how a MLB postseason bubble might be set up.

The setup Tom Verducci proposed seems the most logical. He says the first round, eight three-game wild-card series, could be played at home parks since the higher seed would host all games and no travel would be involved (except for the visiting team’s arrival). Beyond that:

Your first goal is to keep everyone safe. Your next goal is to avoid weather issues–you don’t want to extend the postseason calendar even by a day.

Pick your venues and dates now. Here’s a version of how I would arrange it:

ALDS: Both series played at Globe Life Field in Texas.

NLDS: Both series played at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Why: Centrally located venues with retractable roofs and nearby accommodations. Doubleheaders each day at each site.

ALCS: Petco Park in San Diego

NLCS: Angel Stadium in Anaheim

Why: Weather is a non-issue. League assignment as such to avoid any team having a home game.

World Series: All games at Dodger Stadium

Why: LCS winners need only to drive up the freeway. Dodger Stadium is rich in history with infrastructure and nearby housing to accommodate the big event.

This all makes a great deal of sense. With the division series in Central time, the games could be spaced out — one early afternoon, one early evening — to allow for cleaning and the second set of teams to arrive. Verducci also notes that the off days we now have for postseason series could possibly be eliminated, since there’s no need for a travel day. TV partners might have something to say about that, but since there would be no weather issues for series played in this way and the possibility of other sports being cancelled in October, the TV networks might be looking for programming.

I’m all in favor of Verducci’s plan. I hope MLB considers it.

Now, let’s look at who might be in this year’s postseason based on current records entering play Thursday, August 20. I realize that in the case of the Cardinals and a couple of other teams, they have played far fewer games than other teams and thus awarding a postseason spot by winning percentage — the method MLB says it’s going to use in the event of teams playing an unequal number of games — is a bit problematic.

Still, this is a way to see how these three-game first-round series might be organized. All six division winners, of course, get in, and then the rest of the teams are as follows:

All second-place teams in the six divisions will now qualify for the playoffs. The seventh and eighth playoff teams in each league will be determined by best record.

The first round of the playoffs, scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 2, will be four three-game series in each league with all games played at the higher seed’s home stadium.

Here are the matchups as they’d be if the season had ended with the games of Wednesday, August 19:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

#8 Phillies (9-10) at #1 Dodgers (18-8)
#7 Marlins (9-9) at #2 Cubs (16-8)
#6 Brewers (11-11) at #3 Braves (14-11)
#5 Padres (14-12) at #4 Rockies (13-11)

I’m not quite sure how they’d break the tie between the .500 Marlins and Brewers — both are currently second-place teams — so I arbitrarily gave Miami the lower seed because I don’t want the Brewers playing the Cubs! The Rockies (.542) get the tiebreaker over the Padres (.538).

Those are some fascinating matchups. The 1993 NL expansion teams would face each other in the postseason for the first time. And the defending World Series champion Nationals are at this time on the outside looking in with a 9-12 mark.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

#8 Orioles (12-12) at #1 Athletics (17-8)
#7 White Sox (14-11) at #2 Yankees (16-8)
#6 Astros (14-10) at #3 Twins (16-9)
#5 Indians (15-9) at #4 Rays (16-9)

The Twins get the 3 seed ahead of the Rays because they are in first place, while the Rays are second in the AL East. But you can see that the Rays would have jumped to the 2 seed if they had a better record against the Yankees than their current 1-5.

The 108-loss Orioles from last year make the postseason under this scenario, though I should note that Baltimore has lost five of its last six and appears to be fading. A White Sox/Yankees matchup would certainly be appealing to national TV networks.

Obviously, those aren’t anywhere near final, but that’s how it would line up as of today. We’re not quite halfway through this abbreviated 60-game season, and of course some teams (Cardinals, Marlins in particular) have quite a few games to make up.

It’s just about this time in a normal 162-game season that teams would be gearing up for a playoff run. It’s really no different this year, except that there will be 16 teams involved in postseason play instead of 10. That’s a lot, and probably too many — and I note that in this scenario, there’s just one sub-.500 team involved out of 16 — but it could provide for some fun October baseball.

It’s a bizarre baseball season in perhaps the craziest year any of us will ever live through. Embrace the weird!