Monday, August 3, 2020

MLB Must “Bubble Up” to Save Season

By Anthony Brancato

Both the NBA and NHL have resuscitated their seasons with no real problems — at least not from the COVID-19 pandemic standpoint, anyway (the "pandemic" of NBA players disrespecting the national anthem being a separate matter).

The key to basketball and hockey's success has been the "bubbles" both sports have set up, including all games being held at a single venue in the former, and two venues — one for each conference — in the latter (fittingly one in Toronto and the other in Edmonton, hockey being Canada's national sport — and who is going to kneel during "O Canada?").

But baseball has decided not to go this route — and there have been COVID cases, and game cancellations, right and left.

It is not too late, however, for Major League Baseball to emulate the strategies of the "winter sports" (a bad joke this year — tell me about it!) by setting up three "bubbles," where 10 teams can play all of their remaining games because each team plays only the teams in their own division, and the geographically corresponding division in the other league — AL East vs. NL East, AL Central vs. NL Central, and AL West vs. NL West.

The teams in the two Eastern divisions can play their games at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, with the teams in the two Central divisions teeing it up at Minute Maid Park in Houston (neither the NL Central nor the AL Central has any teams that play their home games in domed or retractable-roof stadiums, and the Astros used to play in the NL Central) and the teams in the two Western Divisions playing their games at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The idea behind having all three of the "bubbles" at indoor venues, by the way, is to prevent any games from getting rained out, as the season is going to go on until late enough in the year as it is without any postponements potentially pushing it back even further.

And while they're at it, they can change the "home field" assignments for the best-of-three first round to having the higher seed come to bat in the bottom half of each inning in Games 1 and 3 (the latter if necessary) with the lower seed batting in the bottom half of each inning in Game 2.

Rob Manfred, currently in a ding-dong battle with Roger Goodell for most unpopular commissioner in sports, can pull himself back from that precipice and become "The Man Who Saved Baseball" by doing this — and Goodell can't imitate it unless he's willing to cut the NFL season from 16 games to 10, highly unlikely considering the trouble he went to in order to get the regular season extended to 17 games.

The NFL would need to set up four different "bubbles" of eight teams each, one for the AFC East and AFC West, one for the AFC North and AFC South, one for the NFC East and NFC West, and one for the NFC North and NFC South, these pairs of divisions playing each other in the intraconference rotation (these four games for each team plus the six played within the same division comprising the 10-game schedule).

However, there is one bright spot — at least so far:

Mascots are being allowed into the stands. Now MLB needs to try to keep them employed.

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