The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a serious curveball at Major League Baseball, but the league hit back with plans for a shortened 60-game season that comes with some curves of its own.
After shutting down spring training and canceling the first half of the regular season amid the nationwide pandemic shutdown, the league last week announced plans to play and abbreviated season. The game, however, will be very different than any of the previous seasons in baseball’s 144-year history.
When players report July 1 for Spring Training 2.0, there will be several health and safety protocols in place. Players will be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive and every other day during training camp, the regular season and the postseason. Anyone testing positive will be quarantined until they have two negative tests. Players will be administered temperature and symptom checks twice a day and antibody testing will be done monthly.
Most teams will do their training camps at home, including the Houston Astros. The Astros will also use the ballfields at the University of Houston as their alternate site. The regular season starts Thursday, July 23.
In order to reduce travel, the schedule will include 10 games for each team against its four divisional opponents (Rangers, Athletics, Angels, Mariners) along with 20 games against the opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (for example, the AL West will play the NL West). That means the Astros will play the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Padres, Giants and Dodgers. It also means there will be no World Series rematch between the Astros and Washington Nationals unless they meet again in the World Series.
When games resume, there will be a bunch of new rules. Initially there will be no fans in the ballpark, although that could change.
Teams will begin the season with a 30-man active roster that will be pared down to 28 players after two weeks and then to 26 after a month. The trade deadline is Aug. 31 and a player must be on a team’s roster by Sept. 15 to be eligible for postseason play.
Teams will be allowed up to three taxi-squad players on the road, one of which must be a catcher.
The designated-hitter rule will be used in both the American and National leagues.
Any games going into extra innings will start with a runner on second base. The batter who made the last out in the previous inning (or a pinch-runner) will start on second base.
The injured list (IL) will be modified a 10-day list for pitchers and hitters, the 60-day list will be cut to 45 days, and there will be a separate list for players with COVID-19 who will not be able to return until they have two negative tests for the virus.
Team personnel and players not expected to play in the game will sit in the stands or other designated area at least six feet apart. They will wear masks in the dugouts and bullpens at all times.
There will be no spitting, chewing tobacco or sunflower seeds allowed, although gum is permitted. There is to be no celebratory contact such as high-fives and fist bumps.
Welcome to camp
The Astros have named 56 of the 60 players they can invite to training camp, presumably with more to be named later. Among the players are Astros stars Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Martin Maldonado, Josh Reddick, and pitchers Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., and Chris Devenski.
They will be joined by a number of popular supporting players such as Aledmys Diaz, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, along with about 16 top prospects, among others.
Managing the team will be Dusty Baker, taking over for A.J. Hinch, who lost his job in the off season when the team’s 2017 signal-stealing scandal broke.