MLB, players union agree to playoff bubble plan that includes L.A. and San Diego
During the baseball season, Dodgers players rarely stay in Los Angeles for more than 10 days at a time. If the Dodgers advance to the World Series, they could stay in Arlington, Texas, for as many as 25 consecutive days.
They could be joined there by Dodgers fans, who have been unable to attend games in Los Angeles this season but might be able to see their team play in Texas.
The postseason bubble is set, and the schedule announced Tuesday includes a major strategic wrinkle: the elimination of days off during the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The bubble plan, designed to maximize the chances of completing the playoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic, requires no travel during a series. The elimination of days off in every round but the World Series puts an emphasis on pitching depth and all but kills the chances of a team imitating what the Washington Nationals did to win last year’s National League Championship Series, when six pitchers combined to work 33 of the 36 innings.
The Dodgers are expected to clinch a postseason spot this week. If they win the National League West for the eighth consecutive season, they likely would earn the top seed in the NL. That would enable them to play the best-of-three first round entirely at Dodger Stadium and, if they win, to play the rest of the postseason in the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark in Arlington.
This year’s playoffs feature a 16-team field. As of Tuesday, two teams with losing records would make the playoffs — the Houston Astros in the American League, and the San Francisco Giants in the NL — with the Dodgers facing the Giants in the first round based on current standings.
Trent Grisham’s home run changed the momentum and his exaggerated bat flip turned up the heat on the brewing rivalry between the Padres and Dodgers.
The AL playoffs are scheduled to start Sept. 29 and the NL playoffs on Sept. 30. On that one day — Sept. 30 — MLB will stage eight postseason games.
The best-of-three first round would be played entirely at the home ballpark of the higher seed. The rest of the postseason would be played at neutral sites.
In the NL, the higher seed would be the home team for a division series in Arlington, with the other NLDS at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. The NLCS would be played in Arlington.
In the AL, the higher seed would be the home team for a division series at San Diego’s Petco Park, with the other ALDS at Dodger Stadium. The AL Championship Series would be played in San Diego.
The World Series, in Arlington, would start on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
MLB controls the distribution of postseason tickets and has not finalized how that process would take place this year. Rob Matwick, a Rangers executive vice president, said the league would make the final decision but said past practice suggests Southern California fans could buy tickets to see their home team play in Texas.
“There’s always an allocation for the participating teams,” Matwick said. “I would expect that, if the Dodgers or the Padres were in position to be here for the World Series or the league championship, they would have an opportunity for their fans to purchase tickets.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that he was optimistic fans might attend some postseason games. A league official said Manfred would anticipate fans attending playoff games in Texas, where fans already are allowed at sporting events in limited numbers, but not in California.
“I’m hopeful that the World Series and the LCS we will have limited fan capacity,” Manfred said, in comments reported by the Athletic. “I think it’s important for us to start back down the road. Obviously it’ll be limited numbers, socially distanced, protection provided for the fans in terms of temperature checks and the like. Kind of the pods like you saw in some of the NFL games. We’ll probably use that same theory. But I do think it’s important as we look forward to 2021 to get back to the idea that live sports, they’re generally outdoors, at least our games. And it’s something that we can get back to.”
The commissioner’s office is expected to consult with the players union about the possibility of playing with fans in attendance. Under current health and safety protocols, social distancing is facilitated by dispersing players and staff among some of what would otherwise be considered the best seats in the house.
As part of the bubble protocol, players will move into hotel quarantines one week before the end of the regular season and be barred from leaving except for games. Players living alone or with children can ask to stay home through the end of the regular season, but those players and their families cannot leave their home — other than a player going to the ballpark — and must submit to daily virus testing.
Families wishing to enter the bubble can join in the initial hotel quarantine and remain in quarantine throughout the postseason, or can arrive later and enter after a seven-day quarantine. Families opting not to quarantine can travel to the playoffs and visit under social distancing protocols.
However, the families of coaches and staff members would not be allowed within the bubble during the initial hotel quarantine. MLB has not determined whether those families would be allowed to enter the bubble thereafter, pending a survey of the demand for player families.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he would be “very disgruntled” if the families of coaches and staff members were barred from the bubble. He said the coaches and staffers have made sacrifices all season and noted that “coaches don’t have their own union.”
In a memo sent to teams and obtained by The Times, MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem said the league understands that the bubble format places “significant burdens” on team staff, players and their families.
“We simply do not have the flexibility to postpone postseason games if a club is unable to field a competitive team as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak,” Halem wrote.
Rangers spokesman John Blake told The Times that MLB would make the final decision on whether to allow fans at ALCS and World Series games. If fans are allowed, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams suggested he would welcome tourists.
“If we do have fans, we’re looking forward to everyone taking advantage of the many amenities and sights to see,” Williams said.
The Dallas Cowboys play in a stadium adjacent to the Rangers’ ballpark, and the Cowboys are expected to have a limited number of fans in attendance Sunday. Two NFL teams played last week in stadiums restricted to 25% of capacity.
Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University, said it is almost certain that a crowd of thousands would include someone infected with the novel coronavirus, given that health screenings and temperature checks likely would not detect asymptomatic carriers.
“We still don’t have rigorous enough testing and contact tracing to be confident we’re catching every outbreak that actually happens at a stadium,” Binney said.
“I don’t think I’ll be convinced by October this is a safe thing to do, or that the risks are outweighed by the benefits. Is the revenue really going to make a difference to baseball?”
Times staff writer Jorge Castillo contributed to this report from San Diego.
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