Major League Baseball has begun creating an operations manual outlining the procedures necessary for a neutral-site “bubble” setup for the 2020 postseason, ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan and Jeff Passan write. Though still in the early stages, the fact that the league is taking such preparatory steps indicates that the new staging format could very possibly happen for October’s games.
MLB’s plan would most closely resemble the NHL’s bubble format for its ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs. Kaplan and Passan outline the NHL’s plan for those unfamiliar, detailing such aspects as COVID-19 testing, what life is like for players inside of the “bubble” (actually two areas in downtown Toronto and Edmonton that contain the arenas, hotels, and other amenities, with the entire area closed off to the public) as well the challenges of maintaining this environment while also keeping the postseason’s competitive integrity intact.
In theory, the 2020 Major League Baseball playoffs could adopt something of the same format, with two host cities — or at least host areas — staging the National League and American League’s games. Texas and southern California are “early favorites” to be hub areas, Kaplan/Passan write, with New York and the Chicago/Milwaukee also under consideration. One would imagine that Texas and SoCal would be favored in part because of the likelihood of better weather conditions for October baseball than the more northern cities, though Milwaukee’s Miller Park at least has a roof. It is possible different cities could be used for different postseason rounds — Kaplan and Passan write about a scenario that would see, for instances, each league’s division series played in San Diego and Arlington, and then another city could be used for the two LCS matchups as well as the World Series.
While MLB is already in the planning stages and they do have the benefit of learning from how the NHL and NBA have already launched and maintained their bubbles for postseason play, there are still a lot of obvious complications ahead should baseball try to install such a plan for October. For one, baseball will be heading into its playoffs directly on the heels of the regular season, while the NHL and NBA had months during the pandemic lockdown to plan and prepare for their restarts. Both the MLB office and league owners have openly expressed concern about extending the season much beyond October due to fears of a possible second COVID-19 wave later in the year, and the mechanics of getting 16 teams (don’t forget, MLB has an expanded playoffs this year) safely into the bubble and completing enough testing to start playoff games might require some extra time.