MLB has been attempting to play its shortened season without the aid of a bubble, and that’s resulted in two separate COVID-19 outbreaks that have thrown the regular season schedule into upheaval. MLB would understandably like to avoid that for the playoffs, so they’ve reportedly been discussing a solution. Yup, you guessed it: a bubble.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, MLB is exploring the possibility of using a bubble format for their newly-expanded playoffs.
NHL format could be best fit
With the postseason expanded to 16 teams this season, Passan reported that an NBA-style single bubble would be difficult to execute. Instead, MLB is apparently considering adopting the NHL’s approach of using hub cities. Teams would be divided into groups in different cities and stay in the same place for an extended period of time, which would cut way down on travel, reduce exposure risks, and allow for stricter health and safety protocols.
The NHL’s bubble cities format has been successful, with zero positive tests since they started playing again. After enduring two outbreaks, one of which is still going on, that has to look mighty attractive to MLB.
MLB could need four cities
There are lots of ways to slice and dice a hub approach. The NHL has been using two Canadian cities as their hubs, but with 16 playoff teams, MLB could need to double that. Since multiple available ballparks would be required, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are obvious contenders. Additional hubs could be set up in nearby cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and San Diego.
MLB could also explore using just California for the playoffs, taking advantage of Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in Los Angeles, Petco Park in San Diego, Oracle Park in San Francisco, and even the Oakland Coliseum.
There are, of course, tons of possible complications. Trying to have multiple playoff games in one day at the same stadium presents issues with warmup and practice time, disinfecting clubhouses, and game start times. But since one positive test would put $1 billion in playoff TV revenue in serious jeopardy, MLB has a lot of incentive to make this work.
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