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If other teams avoid a Marlins-like outbreak, MLB has a chance

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, left, gives an elbow-bump to Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi, right, prior to a baseball game, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, left, gives an elbow-bump to Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi, right, prior to a baseball game, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Credit: Chris Szagola

Credit: Chris Szagola

We wondered what would happen if a competing team suffered an outbreak. Now we know. MLB decided Tuesday to postpone all Marlins games for the rest of this week – and, to be semi-safe, to table Philadelphia’s games through Friday. The Phillies were the last team to face Miami. Everyone associated with baseball just became a huge Philly fan.

One reason MLB believed it might be able to get through a shortened season is the nature of its sport. Baseball players don’t spend much time within six feet of one another. The chance of a one-team outbreak always was manifest: Teams travel together and share a clubhouse. The great unknown was whether the virus could spread between teams. If it can, baseball 2020 is doomed.

So far, though, no Philly player has tested positive – Philly players are being tested daily if not hourly – since the weekend series against Miami. Should the Phillies not fall ill at anywhere approaching the degree the Marlins did (18 reported positives), MLB will deem that reason to press on.

Here’s a sentence previously unseen in this space: Rob Manfred just did something smart. Rather than force Miami to play with its taxi squad while its positive cases are in isolation, he gave the club a week off. It was within the commissioner’s power to continue with major-league games being played largely by minor-leaguers, but he came down on the side of credibility. Whereupon we break into a chorus of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and shout, “Manfred’s the man!”

(Sorry. I grew up in the ’60s. I watched “Where The Action Is” daily. Don’t get me going on Paul Revere & the Raiders.)

Baseball’s fervent hope – and it could well be hoping against hope – is that what happened with the Marlins is a one-off. They’re based in Miami, a hotspot. They flew to Atlanta for two exhibitions at Truist Park. They stayed at a Buckhead hotel. They then flew to Philadelphia for MLB’s opening weekend.

The Marlins are into yet another decade of rebuilding, their last winning season having been 2009. They’re known mostly for periodically dumping every All-Star type they develop, the latest wave including Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna. (They’re also known for having won two World Series and no division titles – at a time when the Braves took 14 of the latter yet only one of the former.)

What’s left in Miami, as usual, is a young roster without a realistic chance of doing much. Such a roster mightn’t have observed every protocol thus far. If it did, MLB needs new protocols.

Among baseball types, there’s thought that the Marlins’ 18 positives could serve as a slap upside the head to the other 29 clubs. Nobody wants to get sick. Reports hold that the Nationals, who were scheduled to travel to Miami this week, took an in-house vote as to whether they should make such a trip. The raging consensus: no way. In the grand scheme, the Nats’ reluctance to play was a bigger warning flare than those 18 positives. MLB players, see, have the right to opt out.

MLB reported Tuesday that of 6,400 tests conducted since Friday, there had been no positives apart from Miami’s. For those hoping to see a World Series, that’s the best sign yet. There weren’t many positive tests during summer camp – Freddie Freeman was the biggest name by far – but that wasn’t much of a measure. No team had yet boarded an airplane. That changed last week. It was all but inevitable that, in bubble-less baseball, some team would get unlucky/unwise. So long as it’s not more than one team, the sport still has a fighting chance.

If baseball can get through its first full week without another outbreak, it will feel massively relieved. What happened with the Marlins was frightening, especially coming after only one weekend’s worth of games. (Said Nationals manager Dave Martinez: “I’m scared.”) We wondered Monday if MLB could find a workaround. Maybe it has.

That said, 55 regular-season games remain. There’s plenty of time for this to go sideways. Even baseball’s raging optimists have never suggested their plan is guaranteed to succeed. (Again from Dr. Fauci: “The virus will decide.”) But if MLB can adjust its schedule to accommodate 18 positives in one clubhouse – AND if it can show the watching world that the virus doesn’t necessarily jump from one clubhouse to another – it will have scaled a major hurdle.

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