Major League Baseball’s 2020 postseason bubble plan has been approved by the MLB Players Association, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series will all be held at neutral-site ballparks where players will be set up in nearby one-location bubbles. An official announcement is expected at some point on Tuesday, Rosenthal adds.

A bubble approach for MLB would help minimize the risk of another coronavirus outbreak. Shortly after the 2020 season began, there was a major coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins. The St. Louis Cardinals also suffered from a team-wide outbreak and both put the MLB season in jeopardy. All in all, the league has been forced to postpone 4 total games on the schedule due to positive COVID-19 cases.

Last week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan named specific bubble locations for the expanded playoffs:

  • NLDS: Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and Minute Maid Park in Houston 
  • ALDS: Petco Park in San Diego and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles 
  • NLCS: Globe Life Field
  • ALCS: Petco Park
  • World Series: Globe Life Field

A COVID-19 outbreak during the postseason would wreak havoc over the tournament’s schedule and competitive integrity. Baseball’s postseason also coincides with the onset of flu season, so there is added incentive to determine a safe option for isolating players.

Here are three things to know about the league’s plan for the 2020 playoffs:

1. This will be a change from regular season

When Major League Baseball returned to play in July, it was the only major American professional team sports league committed to traveling amid the coronavirus pandemic. Other sports leagues like the WNBA, NBA and MLS determined that a one-location bubble setup was the right choice for their return-to-play plans.

Our R.J. Anderson previously broke down why baseball didn’t use the bubble plan for the 2020 regular season. 

When baseball first returned, there were no formal restrictions for players or any other team personnel, like managers and coaches. After the outbreaks within the Marlins and Cardinals organizations, the league doubled down on wearing masks in the dugouts during games and adhering to social distancing guidelines.

The league also added the requirement that every team is to travel with a compliance officer, who ensures that the team staff and players adhere to the league’s health and safety protocols.

Although the league’s postseason setup won’t eliminate travel altogether — this would actually be the first teams are leaving their geographically-based divisions — a bubble setup for each series in the postseason will help minimize the chances of an outbreak. Players will likely still have to follow similar, strict guidelines from the regular season.

2. There still are unresolved issues

During negotiations on the format for this year’s postseason, one of the disagreements between players and the league was the restrictions for players’ families who wish to enter the bubble. As of Tuesday, the details of how quarantining will work for both players and their families is still unclear, Rosenthal reports. Los Angeles Dodgers players were particularly against this change. 

Here’s more from Rosenthal:

Why, then, must their families enter a seven-day quarantine if they wish to join the players in the controlled bubble environments that Major League Baseball plans for the postseason?

The league says it needs to take every precaution against individuals becoming infected and contaminating the bubbles. The quarantines would cover an incubation period that has a median time of four to five days from exposure to the onset of symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Dodgers other than Turner, citing their team’s success in steering clear of the virus, have also been particularly vocal against the proposed separations from their families, sources say.

The league is willing to allow family members to enter the bubbles and plans to arrange accommodations for them at various resorts, sources say. But to secure maximum protection against the virus, it wants players to accept the same seven-day isolation periods for their families that NBA and NHL players did before resuming their seasons in bubbles. Teams in both those leagues have remained healthy.

Basically, because players have spent the regular season operating outside of a bubble, and in most cases, with their families, there are some players against the additional restrictions when it comes to families joining them in the playoff bubbles. As one of the biggest remaining issues in the league’s postseason plan, the question of how families would be allowed to enter the bubble is still being sorted out by the league. MLB is deciding between three options, according to Rosenthal:

• Quarantine from shortly before the end of the regular season through the wild-card round, then join the players for the Division Series either at home by flying on the team charter or private charter to a road site.

• Quarantine for seven days later, and enter the bubble for the LCS.

• Do not quarantine at all, but attend games as the league’s guests (if local health regulations permit) and engage in limited, socially distanced interactions with players without staying at their hotels.

3. Locations are set; attendance is up in the air

The World Series will be held in the Rangers’ new ballpark, and the bubbles are such that no team will play at home after the first round. In the best-of-three Wild Card round at the start of the layoffs, the higher seed will host all games at its home ballpark. Those series are set to start in the days after the regular season wraps up on Sept. 27 and will quickly trim the playoff field to eight teams who will move to the neutral sites.

Fans have not been able to attend MLB games this season due to the pandemic, though that could change in October. Speaking earlier this week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he hopes fans will be able to attend LCS and World Series games in some capacity.

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