Under this year’s postseason format, the eight best-of-three opening-round series will be played at the home stadiums of the better-seeded team. The remaining teams will then move into the bubbles, with the two American League Division Series played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego and the NL at Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Arlington’s Globe Life Field. The respective LCS would then be played in San Diego and Arlington, with Game 1 of the World Series in Arlington on Oct. 20.
Because the latter rounds will be played at neutral sites, MLB has eliminated travel days for the Division Series and LCS, meaning the former will be played over five consecutive days and the latter over seven. The World Series, per tradition, will retain its days off between Games 2 and 3 and between Games 5 and 6, even though all those games will be played in Arlington. Game 7 of the World Series, if necessary, would be Oct. 28.
In 2019, with the frequent travel days, the Washington Nationals played 17 games across 30 days on their way to winning the World Series — allowing them, among other things, to cover 83 percent of their postseason innings with their top four starters and top two relievers. This year’s champion, by contrast, could play as many as 22 games in as few as 29 days, with no mid-series days off until the World Series.
Though baseball’s entire, 60-game regular season is being held without fans, Manfred for the first time left open the possibility of a limited number of fans being permitted to attend the later rounds of the postseason.
“I’m hopeful that [for] the World Series and the LCS we will have limited fan capacity,” Manfred said during a question-and-answer session through Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business. Manfred’s comments were first reported by the Athletic. “I think it’s important for us to start back down [that] road. Obviously, it’ll be limited numbers, socially distanced, [with] protection provided for the fans in terms of temperature checks and the likes …
“But I do think it’s important as we look forward to 2021 to get back to the idea that live sports are safe. They’re generally outdoors, at least our games, and it’s something we can get back to.”
According to a person familiar with the agreement, MLB’s format will require players on contending teams to begin quarantining at hotels — even during home series — over the final week of the regular season, beginning Sept. 22, in preparation for entering one of the protective bubbles. The last remaining sticking point was the treatment of family members, following a regular season in which players were permitted to live with their families without restrictions.
Under the new agreement, family members can quarantine with players leading into the postseason then remain with them for the entire playoffs, or they can enter the bubble in later series following a seven-day quarantine at a separate hotel. News of the agreement was first reported Tuesday by the New York Post and the Athletic.
Players had been hesitant to agree to a quarantine for family members, arguing the regular season has been contested mostly successfully without a bubble and with many players residing with their families. However, MLB was worried about an outbreak similar to the ones that sidelined the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals for long stretches this season. A similar situation could cut short the lucrative postseason, which is worth up to $1 billion in revenue.
During his virtual panel for Hofstra on Monday night, Manfred framed the sport’s desire to return fans to its stadiums as an economic necessity, reiterating the sport’s calculation that 40 percent of its revenue comes from in-person fans — in the form of ticket sales, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc.
“The owners have made a massive economic investment in getting the game back on the field [in 2020] for the good of the game,” he said. “We need to be back in a situation where we can have fans in ballparks in order to sustain our business. It’s really that simple.”
Asked to look ahead to the 2021 season and the potential return of fans on a larger scale, Manfred said that will depend on the status of a coronavirus vaccine.
“What our experts are telling us is that they expect by the time we resume play in the spring we will have a widely distributed vaccine,” he said. “I hope they’re right about that. … The virus controls [everything], and it’s: ‘Do you have a vaccine? Are we still seeing spikes.’ That’s going to drive what local governments allow us to do.”
Manfred also said the expanded, 16-team postseason is likely to remain beyond 2020, adding that “an overwhelming majority” of owners had already endorsed the concept before the pandemic.
“I think there’s a lot to commend it,” he said, “and it is one of those changes I hope will become a permanent part of our landscape.”
Asked about making permanent some of this year’s other temporary rule changes, Manfred was noncommittal. However, he said the adoption of a universal designated hitter in both leagues has “softened” opposition to the DH in the NL, and he said the new extra-inning rule — with each half-inning beginning with a runner on second — has been greeted with a better-than-expected reception and “has a chance now” to stick. He was less optimistic about retaining seven-inning doubleheaders beyond 2020.
“One of the few good things about [the pandemic] is it has provided an opportunity to try some different things in the game on a one-year basis that I think has been a positive overall,” he said.