Major League Baseball’s return to play strategy appears to be coming apart at the seams and, if changes aren’t made soon, the entire regular season might disintegrate right along with it.
The 2020 campaign is in jeopardy after baseball failed to get through a week of full games before the coronavirus started to spread. First, there was a wide-scale outbreak within the Miami Marlins, then positive cases in the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals organizations.
On Friday, the number of infections reportedly prompted MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to tell the head of the players association, Tony Clark, the season might be cancelled if the outbreaks continue. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, multiple players expressed concern it could happen as soon as Monday.
According to a joint release from MLB/MLBPA on Friday, there were 29 positive cases out of 11,895 samples taken over the last week. Twenty of the positives were players, nine were staff members and 21 were tied to an undisclosed team, which is the Marlins. In total, 58 positive tests have been discovered since the sample process began, impacting 19 of 30 teams.
The growing number of cases meant Friday’s expected full slate of games was missing six teams, or 20 per cent of big-league clubs. The regular season, which began July 23, has already seen 30 postponed games, some of which will have to be cancelled outright, even if the schedule progresses.
There was speculation in the weeks leading up to baseball’s return about how long the season should be. After several rounds of contentious negotiations failed to result in an agreement with the MLBPA, Manfred mandated a 60-game schedule. At the time, the number seemed low. As July comes to an end, it now seems overly ambitious, if not downright impossible.
“I don’t think there’s a person who thought this would be seamless and thought we would run smooth as silk, unless different things happened with the virus,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said during a Friday morning availability with local reporters. “I think all of us knew we were going to have to adapt and adjust. We’ll focus on what we can control … and do the best we can to stay safe.”
Thoughts of a competitively balanced schedule, or the integrity of a season, can be brushed aside for now. This is no longer about trying to mimic a normal year, it’s about whether the season can even be salvaged.
Predicting where things will go from here is impossible. In early July, during an interview on the Dan Patrick Show, Manfred was asked what it would take to cancel the season. The commissioner referenced “competitive integrity” before stating if a team or two was decimated and couldn’t play “we’d have to think very, very hard about what we’re doing.”
Well, considering the Marlins are missing half their team, that has already happened. The dire situation throughout much of the United States has prompted a countless number of epidemiologists to call for the cancellation, or at the very least postponement, of the regular season. MLB had resisted, but apparently that option is no longer off the table.
The Jays were supposed to be in Philadelphia this weekend. The series opener was pushed back from Friday to Saturday before all three games were cancelled. So the Jays remained in Washington looking for ways to stay busy until facing the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. That’s the 2020 season in a nutshell.
“We’re going to have a socially distanced bus tour of D.C. (on Friday), we’ll be moving around the area to appreciate the history and culture of this area,” Atkins said. “We’ll have a workout Saturday and Sunday. Most likely a simulated game to keep our pitchers on track and ready to crank things back up. We’re still talking about different ways to make the most of this time that we’re down.”
MLB’s best shot at pulling off a 2020 season would have been adopting similar measures to the ones taken by the NBA and the NHL. Both leagues went with bubbles, or hub cities, which isolate players from the general population and eliminate the need for long-distance travel.
That proposal was a non-starter in baseball for several reasons. The players balked at the idea of being isolated for upwards of four months, including summer camp and the post-season. The ideal locations for hub cities in Florida and Arizona, where teams have spring training facilities, were considered hot spots, not just for the disease but for the climate with temperatures reaching the upper 30s.
The league had the option of getting creative by using cities like New York or Los Angeles, which have multiple big-league stadiums, but neither party seemed interested. The players wanted freedom, owners wanted to keep their costs down by playing at home and, as recently as two weeks ago, some teams were still talking about selling tickets at some point later this summer.
It’s too late to make drastic changes now. MLB made its bed and must lay in it, but there are at least a few adjustments that might make this plan less messy. A call for players to remain isolated at their hotels, similar to the Rogers Centre quarantine, is long overdue. Tests should be done every day, instead of every other day, to limit exposure as best as possible.
There also must be a renewed commitment from teams to follow the rules already in place. Per multiple reports, MLB’s investigation discovered Marlins players were going out on the town and enjoying their hotel bar in Atlanta. A few days later ,when a small batch of positive cases were found, the players voted on whether they should play that Sunday afternoon vs. Philadelphia. They did.
The Marlins’ careless acts and ensuing reckless decision to play not only permitted further spread of the disease within their clubhouse, it put the Phillies at risk. And If you think everyone realized the benefit of being cautious, think again. After the Cardinals’ game was postponed on Friday, an unnamed player told The Athletic’s Mark Saxon he still wanted to play on Saturday because they “can’t let all this crumble.”
Unfortunately, that won’t be up to the players or MLB; it will be up to the virus. The spread can be somewhat contained if proper protocols are in place, but the risks cannot be eliminated, and the system will only be as strong as its weakest link. If everyone is playing by different rules in different cities, this plan doesn’t stand a chance.
Source:- Toronto Star
Canadiens to face Flyers in first round of playoffs – Montreal Gazette
Article content continued
The Price is right:When the plans for the NHL Return to Play tournament were unveiled, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Pittsburgh Penguins were wary of having to face Carey Price in a short series.
As it turns out, their concerns were justified.
Price played some of the best hockey of his career as the Canadiens won the best-of-five series in four games. He had a career-best .947 save percentage and finished with a 1.67 goals-against average after blanking the Penguins 2-0 in Game 4 Friday.
“I don’t want to pump his tires too much because he’s sitting here, but he’s the backbone for us,” defenceman Shea Weber said during the postgame video conference. “He’s so solid every night and that allows us to play with confidence, and not worry about giving up chances.
“Obviously, we want to maintain the structure (and) we kept a lot of stuff to the outside. But having him back there, the way he plays the puck on bounces, his rebound control in the series helped not only the back end, but everybody.”
Price and Sidney Crosby engaged in some trash-talking and the occasional clash of sticks in the final. After one save, Price tossed the puck in Crosby’s direction.
“It’s just two guys caring about what they’re doing,” Price said. “A lot of the guys in front of me were the guys giving him the gears. It’s just part of the game.”
Crosby had goals in each of the first two games and an assist in Game 3. His fellow superstar, Evgeni Malkin had a series-high 21 shots on goal, but was limited to one secondary assist.
NHL Playoffs Daily 2020 – Win or go home for Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets – ESPN
The Round of 16 matchups in the 2020 NHL playoffs are coming into focus. After the No. 1 seeds were determined on Saturday — the Philadelphia Flyers in the East and the Vegas Golden Knights in the West — Sunday’s two round-robin games will give us the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds, with the Boston Bruins taking on the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues facing off against the Dallas Stars.
Check out the ESPN Stanley Cup Playoffs Daily every day of the postseason until the Cup is handed out in October.
Note: All times Eastern
The No. 3 seed — and a matchup against the No. 7 New York Islanders — is on tap for the winning club, while the losing team draws the No. 6-seeded Carolina Hurricanes next. Neither of these teams feel great about their round-robin play so far. “We had hoped that we could have a great start and use this game as a maintenance game if need be,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said on Friday. Instead, Boston wants a win to gain confidence into the next round — and save the embarrassment of falling from the top seed to fourth. Meanwhile, Washington coach Todd Reirden said he “expects more from everybody” after the team’s last loss, against Philly. The Capitals are expected to start Braden Holtby, meaning he will have played all three round-robins games. A friendly reminder that Holtby is a pending free agent this offseason.
Neither of these teams have fared well in round-robin play, each going 0-2. The winner of this game gets the third seed in the West, and a date with the Calgary Flames in the next round. The loser finishes fourth, and plays the Vancouver Canucks. St. Louis was without two of its best forwards — Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas — last game, but both are expected back for this matchup. Jake Allen gets the nod in net, giving Jordan Binnington some rest. Look for the Stars, a bit lackadaisical to begin the tournament, to pick up their intensity. “I think our mindset this last game is trying to approach it like it is a do-or-die,” forward Blake Comeau said. “We want to go in, when we do start our playoff series, feeling good about where we’re at.”
This is the final elimination game left in this part of the tourney, in what has arguably been the most entertaining series of the qualification round. The Blue Jackets have proved that they have a blueprint for forechecking and smothering their way past Toronto’s high-octane offense, but Columbus needs to regain confidence after a third period meltdown on Friday night where they allowed three goals in the final five minutes. It looks like the Blue Jackets are likely without defenseman Zach Werenski — injured in the third period of Game 4, awaiting MRI results — which would be a huge loss. The winner of this game faces the Lightning in the next round, which is a juicy matchup for either team. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a second to appreciate just how wild this Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs series has been so far:
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) August 8, 2020
About last night…
Raise your hand if you’d see these two teams play a full seven-game series. They went at it on Saturday with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on the line, and both were playing at full tilt. Vegas held a late lead, which it almost blew when J.T. Compher tied the game with 1:02 remaining in regulation. However, Alex Tuch scored his second goal of the game in the waning seconds of overtime to give the Golden Knights the win and the No. 1 seed in the West. The Avalanche will play the Arizona Coyotes in the next round, while Vegas draws the Chicago Blackhawks. Robin Lehner, who had 32 saves on Saturday, seems to have earned the Game 1 start — setting up some nice drama considering he’ll face the Blackhawks, the team that traded him away at the trade deadline. Full recap.
Are the Philadelphia Flyers a wagon? Philadelphia has come into this tournament as hot as they were before the season was paused, and quite frankly look like the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Philly’s top players have showed up, but the Flyers really flexed their depth in Saturday night’s win. Another positive sign: Shayne Gostisbehere drew into the lineup, and almost looked like the dynamic 2018-19 version of himself again. Philly draws the Montreal Canadiens in the next round. The Lightning played the entire round robin without Steven Stamkos, and now they’re in for a scare as Victor Hedman left the first period after an awkward fall. Hedman is typically very mild-mannered, so to see him react like this definitely raised alarm. As the No. 2 seed, Tampa Bay gets the winner of tonight’s Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets game in the next round. Full recap.
Victor Hedman shows his frustration as he’s forced to the locker room following an apparent ankle injury pic.twitter.com/menWgz86CG
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) August 9, 2020
The 24-year-old scored two goals on Saturday, including the gorgeous game winner with 15.9 seconds remaining in overtime, to seal the No. 1 seed for Vegas:
Alex Tuch buries the winning goal in overtime to defeat the Avalanche 4-3, giving the Golden Knights the West’s top seed.
The rookie had just seven goals in 47 career NHL games entering Saturday’s game. He scored two against the Lightning — and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy — to pace the Flyers to a huge win.
The third-line center is proving to be a valuabel net-front presence for the Avs. He had two goals on Saturday, including one that tied the game with 1:02 left in regulation.
Don’t underestimate JT Compher at the net pic.twitter.com/5qUxy5ljMs
— Ham Sports (@ham_sports) August 8, 2020
Social post of the day
— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) August 8, 2020
Motivational speaker of the day
J.T. Miller set the tone early last night with his starting lineup read… 🔥 pic.twitter.com/vsfpPg7CrE
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) August 8, 2020
Bubble content of the day
The Islanders seem to take their ping pong tournament very seriously (or maybe just Jean-Gabriel Pageau does):
Coach Jon Cooper, Lightning have 'to circle wagons' after losing defenseman Victor Hedman to injury in round-robin finale – ESPN
TORONTO — Tampa Bay Lightning star defenseman Victor Hedman left the team’s round-robin finale Saturday night, after it appeared he twisted his right ankle midway through the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Following the 4-1 loss that secured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference for the Lightning, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper didn’t have an update on Hedman’s status or how much time he might miss, though he acknowledged his potential loss would create a notable hole in the Lightning’s lineup.
“It’s a little frustrating because we feel like we’re going in the right direction and to lose some of the star power we have,” said Cooper, noting the Lightning are also without captain Steven Stamkos and played Saturday minus Hedman’s defensive partner Jan Rutta. “We’ve got to circle the wagons.”
Hedman went down untouched as he spun around to skate backward at the Tampa Bay blue line with the Flyers’ Tyler Pitlick driving up the right wing. The NHL’s 2017 Norris Trophy winner got up slowly and broke his stick while heading down the tunnel to the locker room.
Stamkos has yet to play after sustaining a lower body injury before the start of training camp last month.
The Lightning, last season’s No. 1 seed in the East, will play either Columbus or Toronto in the first round. The Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs will play a deciding Game 5 on Sunday to conclude the qualifying round.
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