In a twisted sort of way, it was funny watching the opening of an MLB Network show Thursday afternoon. The host led things off by declaring Wednesday the best night of a young baseball season that is already getting old in more ways than one.
Move to your mobile device and scan the top stories section on the MLB app and you’ll be thrilled to learn rookie Edwin Rios became the first player in major-league history to hit a leadoff two-run homer during the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 13-inning win at Houston.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia …
The Phillies learned Thursday that one of their coaches and a staff member tested positive Wednesday, forcing the cancellation of a workout, the shutdown of Citizens Bank Park, and the postponement of the three scheduled weekend games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Who knows when the Phillies will play again or what the next set of test results will reveal. The shuttering of the ballpark in South Philadelphia came in at No. 9 among the top MLB app stories.
The Miami Marlins, with more than half of their team infected by the coronavirus, remained quarantined inside a Rittenhouse Square hotel and uncertain when they will be able to take the field again. The total number of players testing positive is now at 17. That should have been the top story on the app, but it did not even get a mention. Pandemic news is bad for business.
Apparently, the COVID-19 season is ready to leave the Phillies and Marlins behind. They are out of sight and out of mind. Both teams, by the end of the weekend, will be seven games behind just in the number of games played. That means in order to play 60 games, they will have to play 57 in 56 days.
Can it be done? Sure, if they play two or three doubleheaders and give up two or three off days.
Would it be fair to either team? No way.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi suggested during a radio interview earlier this week that the problem could be solved by using a team’s winning percentage regardless of the number of games they have played when the time comes to seed the eight playoff teams in the National League and American League.
A better solution would be to just end the season right now. The Phillies’ players should get on board with that idea. They would be entirely justified if they told union leader Tony Clark and commissioner Rob Manfred that they wanted off this bumpy ride immediately. Even if some of the Marlins players were guilty of going out in Atlanta, the protocols put in place by MLB also failed the Phillies when Miami was allowed to take the field Sunday.
And now the odds are stacked against the Phillies in so many ways now. Let’s assume, and it’s a big assumption, they resume the season on Monday by beginning a four-game series against the New York Yankees with two games on the road and two more at Citizens Bank Park.
By the time that happens, the Phillies will have been off for seven days and even if they can find a way to work out between now and then, there is no substitute for actually playing games. In the best-case scenario, Aaron Nola will pitch Monday and Zack Wheeler will pitch Tuesday with each going on eight days’ rest. Extra rest is great in late July during a normal baseball season. It’s a detriment to getting into a routine and groove during a COVID-19 baseball season.
“The players aren’t playing baseball right now and they are used to playing almost daily,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Wednesday. “We’ve had two starters [Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin] who haven’t even been able to take their first turn through the rotation yet.”
Would it be surprising if Arrieta and Eflin had command problems when they finally get back on the mound? Would it be surprising if the timing of the Phillies’ hitters is off following a week away? They will likely face Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, and it’s no fun getting in the box against him under the best of circumstances.
Even if the Phillies do return to working out this week, Klentak indicated those workouts will be staggered in the same way they were at the start summer camp because the team is understandably being extra careful right now.
“I’m not trying to minimize the challenge of it,” Klentak said. “Those are all very real. I think we have to put health and safety first. 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. 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.”
It’s admirable that Klentak has taken the high road given the situation his team faces, but the bumps in the road have become a sinkhole for the Phillies. The players have to be growing weary of the constant COVID-19 testing without a game to play afterward. They are also undoubtedly concerned about the coach and the staff member whose tests came back positive Thursday.
At the moment, the risks seem too great and the routines too grating for the reward of a World Series title that has lost most of its importance in the midst of a pandemic.