MLB’s corona-abbreviated 2020 season has gotten off to a rocky start with two teams—the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals—playing catch-up in the wake of recent coronavirus outbreaks. Both clubs were admittedly lax in following league protocols but even if Miami and St. Louis are more attentive going forward, the possibility of further COVID complications across MLB still exists. Just this past weekend, the Indians were forced to reprimand—and subsequently quarantine—two of their starting pitchers for going off premises during their trip to Chicago.
With those concerns in mind, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports that MLB is considering a playoff format similar to the “bubble” models successfully adopted by both the NBA and NHL. MLB workshopped constructing its own bubble environment as early as April (Phoenix was considered the favorite to host games) but the idea was ultimately back-burnered after the league faced significant resistance from players, many of whom had no interest in being away from their family for the better part of four months. But with over a billion in TV revenue at stake, baseball can’t afford any more setbacks. MLB needs the postseason to go off without a hitch and restricting cross-country travel by playing all of its games in the same general vicinity would seem to accomplish that.
A neutral-site World Series would be unprecedented but with home-field advantage already essentially meaningless in a year without fans, now seems as good a time as any to break with tradition. If MLB does opt for a postseason bubble, the league would likely follow the NHL’s lead in establishing two or more “hub” cities where games would be held. New York and Chicago each have two venues at their disposal, though Los Angeles is probably the more likely host site given the comparatively warmer climate of Southern California.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, one proposal being considered would be for the National League to stage games at Dodger Stadium with the American League playing its October slate at Angel Stadium in nearby Anaheim. With MLB debuting an expanded 16-team postseason in 2020, Dodger and Angel Stadiums may not have the bandwidth to hold all those games, which is why Petco Park in San Diego (roughly two hours south of Los Angeles) could serve as a third site, at least for the best-of-three Wild Card round. Bay Area parks in Oakland and San Francisco could also be called upon if the league requires additional stadium space to accommodate its 16 playoff teams.
Though MLB seems to be leaning toward Southern California for hosting duties, East Coast and Midwest hubs have also been discussed. In that scenario, Citi Field (Mets), Yankee Stadium, Citizen’s Bank Park (Phillies), Nationals Park and Camden Yards (Orioles) would comprise MLB’s proposed East Coast hub with Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox), Wrigley Field (Cubs) and Miller Park (Brewers) the favorites to host the league’s Midwest slate.
Passan acknowledged logistical challenges in adopting a postseason bubble. Among other issues, the league would have to navigate earlier-than-usual start times (before noon local time in some cases), limited practice availability and enough time between games to thoroughly disinfect clubhouses. But in the absence of a better idea amid the most harrowing year of our collective lives, October baseball in Southern California could be where the 2020 season is headed.