Eight days into the season the Phillies have only played three games and their schedule will remain dark — literally and figuratively — until Saturday when they are supposed to play a doubleheader as the road team against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park.
That’s baseball — COVID-19 baseball.
“You’re going to have a five-day shutdown,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said during a Zoom call with the media Wednesday. “You and I both know that’s not the way baseball is supposed to be played. But … this is a different kind of season.”
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So the Phillies are going to have a home-field disadvantage this weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays because one of the best things about being home is you get the last at-bat of the game. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have the disadvantage of having to play their entire home schedule away from Toronto this season. They played their “home” opener Wednesday night against Washington at Nationals Park and will be the “home” team in that same venue again Thursday.
After their three “home” games against the Phillies this weekend at Citizens Bank Park, they will begin a six-game road trip to Atlanta and Boston. In a COVID-19 season that is supposed to be designed to keep teams as close to home as possible, the Blue Jays will have played their first 16 games in St. Petersburg, Fla., Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Boston. That is more than a quarter of their season.
Following their road series against the Braves and Red Sox, they will head to Buffalo, where they will play the remainder of their home games this season at Sahlen Field, the home of their triple-A affiliate.
By contrast, the Phillies will likely play 18 of their first 20 games at Citizens Bank Park if, as reported, they have a rescheduled home-and-home series against the New York Yankees next week.
It’s all a big mess created by COVID-19 and Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is reluctant to complain about his team’s own predicament of being off five straight days following their season-opening series against the virus-inflicted Miami Marlins.
“I don’t dispute that this layoff has created a lot of challenges for us — on the field and off the field,” Klentak said. “There’s an administrative burden on many people and uncertainty for the players. The players aren’t playing baseball right now and they are used to playing almost daily. Now we’re going to have five days off and we’re going to ramp it up with two games on Saturday. That presents its own health risks. Maybe not COVID-related, but orthopedic.
“Coming into the year we knew there would be challenges. We anticipated there would be positive [COVID-19] cases and there would be bumps in the road. We would all in the industry have to do our best to get through them. They’re not going to be easy. The best thing we can do is try to rally together — both as a team and as a league to make the most of it.
One of the greatest challenges for the Phillies and perhaps the greatest concern for manager Joe Girardi is keeping his pitching staff sharp and ready.
“We’ve had two starters [Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin] that haven’t even been able to take their first turn through the rotation yet,” Klentak said. “So we’re going to do everything we can to stage some workouts in a safe and staggered fashion to make sure that guys can stay in shape as well as they can. We’ll be ready to roll as best we can on Saturday. I’m not trying to minimize the challenge of it. Those are all very real. I think we have to put health and safety first.”
It was a foregone conclusion that this season was going to be a challenge and it is clear that the Phillies and Blue Jays have both been burdened with serious COVID-19 disadvantages.
You can’t tell the players without a program and you don’t know the schedule even if you have one. Matt Breen reports that this week’s schedule has sort of become next week’s schedule with the Phillies playing a home-and-home four-game series against the New York Yankees instead of being off Monday before playing three games against the virus-ravaged Miami Marlins.
The Phillies did get good news for a second straight day when their COVID-19 tests all came back negative with the exception of a visiting clubhouse employee, who was obviously exposed to the Marlins’ outbreak.
Scott Lauber points out that Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price made the right call by staying home from work Saturday and Sunday when he did not feel well even though he did not test positive for the coronavirus. Now, writes Lauber, baseball must do the right thing by tightening its protocols.
Columnist David Murphy believes the NFL needs to learn from baseball’s stumble out of the starting blocks if the league hopes to stage its own COVID-19 season.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, I took a look at how the legendary comedy team of Abbott and Costello might have viewed the changes in the Phillies’ schedule.
Tomorrow: Phillies will be off a fifth straight day.
Saturday: Phillies resume play as road team at home with doubleheader vs. Toronto, Zack Wheeler makes second start for Phils, 3:07 p.m.
Sunday: Series finale vs. Blue Jays, 3:07 p.m.
Monday: Phillies at Yankees, tentatively scheduled
Tuesday: Phillies at Yankees, tentatively scheduled
In a typical baseball season, we’d be writing about the July 31 trade deadline right now and it was on this date in 2006 that the Phillies traded outfielder Bobby Abreu and pitcher Cory Lidle to the New York Yankees for pitchers Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith, catcher Jesus Sanchez and shortstop C.J. Henry. The Yankees also agreed to pay the remainder of Abreu’s contract, which was roughly $36 million. Abreu, who was added to the Phillies Wall of Fame last season, hit .295 with 95 doubles, nine triples, 43 home runs and an .843 OPS in three seasons with the Yankees. Lidle pitched in just 10 games for the Yankees before he died when his personal plane crashed into a New York City building that October.
Smith posted a 4.97 ERA in 23 relief appearances with the Phillies, but none of the other three players acquired in the deal ever played for the Phillies.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Apparently I’m the only person who noticed the Marlins’ pitcher spitting during the first game. That was completely against protocol. Players who break protocol should be ejected. I saw high-fiving in the dugout (Phillies, this time) and lack of masks off the field. If there’s going to be a baseball season this year, strict protocols should be followed and those who don’t follow them should not be allowed to play.
Susan W., via email