How Will the COVID-19 Pandemic Change the 2020 Baseball Season

Apr 3, 2020

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Social media is currently rife with professional baseball players sharing their individual training regimes. Videos of players lifting weights in their home gyms or playing catch in the backyard have been seen by baseball fans across Instagram and Twitter in hopes the 2020 baseball season will start soon.

The Major League Baseball season is on pause having been slated for a March 26th start. Spring training was canceled and now, teams across MLB are waiting for the all-clear signal to start the 2020 campaign. That all-clear signal is a long way away, however, leaving fans and baseball bettors hungry for the game.

MLB initially postponed the start of the baseball season by “at least two weeks”. Now, as the United States’ confirmed cases of the coronavirus grow higher, a 14-day pushback seems hopeful and ultimately, incredibly optimistic. The coronavirus has yet to peak in the US and things are to get worse before they become better.

Baseball may have a view into their future by looking at east Asia. China, the country in which the coronavirus originated, saw its cases surge in January and February.

The Chinese Super League, the country’s domestic soccer competition, was set to kick off on February 22nd. Of course, like the MLB season start date, it was pushed back due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The good news is the CSL is expected to kick off on April 18th as China has controlled the spread of the deadly disease through various tight measures. Teams began training together once more on the final weekend of March and foreign players were summoned back to their soccer clubs to prepare for the season’s kick-off.

The CSL’s potential kick off on April 18th has not been confirmed, but if it does come to fruition, then it will occur eight weeks after the original start date of the campaign. MLB could use the eight-week model the CSL employed which would see the baseball season’s first pitch in the third week of May.

The only problem with this possible plan is the level of the outbreak in the US. Although China saw a high death toll, the country’s lockdown greatly improved the situation.

The biggest problem MLB will have once a start date is confirmed is the lack of training and fitness players will possess. If the league decides to start up as soon as a green light is given to play, then players will struggle due to the lack of practice afforded to them.

Pitchers would be at the biggest disadvantage of a short preseason and injuries could be at a record high in 2020.

With baseball attendances declining at the same time home runs continue to climb in MLB, fans may not enjoy an offense-heavy season. Bettors could make out well, however, knowing that each game will see poor pitching. Yet, there is no guarantee hitters will be up to their usual standards either.

One of the solutions to complete the baseball season is to shorten the already marathon-like 162-game campaign. The MLB season is incredibly long and reducing the number of games could be a good thing.

It could ultimately influence the league to reduce the number of regular-season games on a full-time basis, which could bring back fans to the ballparks.

A reduced schedule does alter the way in which games will be played. The 162-game season gives teams the chance to recover from poor starts and to overcome sluggish play. A reduced calendar of games and the ability to overcome a losing streak becomes far more difficult for teams.

As sports fans know from watching the playoffs in the MLB, NBA, and NHL, seven-game series benefit the stronger team. The same occurs with a long baseball season as the stronger teams outlast the weaker clubs. A shorter 2020 schedule could enable one of the unfancied teams in the league to win the World Series, or at the very least, make the playoffs.

Another potential way the MLB season could be altered is by adding more doubleheaders. According to ESPN, there were 32 doubleheaders in the 2019 MLB season. These doubleheaders were played mostly due to weather-related problems.

One solution the league could utilize in 2020 to complete a 162-game season is to implement seven-inning doubleheaders. Teams would be required to play 14 innings over the course of a day rather than 18. It is a potential answer to completing a full season, but like the nine-inning games, it doesn’t offer an answer to tiring out players.

If MLB doesn’t completely suspend the current season, and it is doubtful that they will, the COVID-19 pandemic actually offers the league’s brain trust the chance to alter itself to be better. Does MLB need a 162-game season to begin with?

Can baseball be more exciting with fewer games and a sprint to the playoffs rather than a meandering marathon? Those questions could be answered when the season finally begins.