Miami Marlins Outbreak Wreaks Havoc on M.L.B. Schedule

Less than a week into Major League Baseball’s long-delayed season, its schedule was thrown into turmoil on Tuesday because of the Miami Marlins’ continuing escalation of positive coronavirus tests.

The Marlins have at least 17 positive cases within their traveling party — including 15 players — and will not play again until Monday at the earliest. The Philadelphia Phillies, who hosted the Marlins for three games last weekend, will not play again until Friday.

The ripple effects of those changes affected three other teams: the Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals.

The outbreak and the havoc it has wreaked sent a sense of unease throughout M.L.B., even as the rest of the league’s 30 clubs continued playing as planned.

“There’s a real level of fear and anxiety for all of us, especially all of us that have children, anybody who may have underlying health conditions, anybody who has an older parent, coaches and everybody else,” Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers veteran and the 2011 National League most valuable player, said before a game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “So it’s definitely not easy. It’s something we’re all struggling with, to an extent, and it makes it really difficult to concentrate on baseball.”

The Marlins were scheduled to play four games against the Orioles this week, and the Phillies were scheduled to play four against the Yankees, with each team hosting two games in both series. Instead, the Yankees will play the Orioles in Baltimore on Wednesday and Thursday. The Nationals, who were scheduled to play in Miami this weekend, will instead be off.

“Given the current circumstances, M.L.B. believes that it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their baseball operations for a resumption early next week,” the league said in a statement.

No other teams have had a new confirmed case since Friday, the league said, adding that the individuals with the Marlins who tested positive were in isolation and receiving care. The team has remained in Philadelphia and is undergoing daily testing.

The Marlins played the Phillies on Sunday after learning that four players had tested positive. Nine more members of their traveling party were found to have tested positive on Monday, and four more cases were confirmed on Tuesday.

The Phillies have not registered any new positives since the beginning of the season, but were undergoing more tests on Tuesday.

Even so, the team’s plans rapidly changed. On Tuesday morning, even after that night’s Phillies-Yankees game in Philadelphia had been postponed, the Phillies still expected to play the Yankees in the Bronx this week.

But a little after noon, about 45 minutes before the Yankees were expecting to depart Philadelphia for New York, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman contacted Manager Aaron Boone and reliever Zack Britton, the team’s players’ union representative, with the new plan.

“We had not left,” Boone said, “but our equipment was starting down the road.”

For now, the league still hopes to have every team play 60 games this season. The Phillies and the Marlins could conceivably reach that number by playing doubleheaders or playing on mutual off days. But it could be that teams will end up playing a different total of games, as they did in the strike-affected seasons of 1972 and 1981.

“I think for the players, we understand that it might not be perfect in the competitive balance of things this year, and that’s just the nature of the environment that we’re in,” Britton said. “The goal for us is to stay healthy and play as many games as we can, have the opportunity to hopefully play a postseason.”

Credit…James Lang/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Marlins’ outbreak, and a schedule that is suddenly in flux, illustrated how one team’s cluster of positive tests can threaten the viability of the season. Cashman noted that the “genius” of baseball’s adjusted regional schedule for this year made it easier for teams to pivot to different locations, but constant scrambling could become untenable, and Cashman could not say with confidence that the season will be completed.

“I can tell you we’re going to do everything in our power to do everything the right way and play baseball as long as we can, and if something changes, it changes,” he said. “We’re looking forward to playing the Orioles tomorrow.”

That is the prevailing approach around the majors, with baseball’s most popular cliché — taking things one game at a time — now set against a different backdrop. More than a dozen players, including two former Cy Young Award winners, opted out of the season before the outbreak, and more could follow as players calibrate the risks of travel.

“It’s day to day,” Braun said. “We’re constantly assessing the situation, seeing where we’re at, but it’s not easy for any of us to think that we’ll be flying home back to our families tomorrow night, and we won’t get the test results from today or tomorrow for a couple of days.”

Phillies Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday that the Marlins’ outbreak should serve as a warning to the rest of the league. The Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins wears a mask while playing first base, Bryce Harper wore a mask on the bases Sunday and shortstop Didi Gregorius wears a mask at all times on the field. Girardi said the Phillies have been more attentive since a cluster of cases shut down their training complex in Clearwater, Fla., in June.

“It was real to us; there are players in our clubhouse now, and coaches, that went through this and saw how quickly it spread,” Girardi said. “I think we had eight or nine cases in Clearwater, and we didn’t have that many people there. So this is a great wake-up call, and I think baseball will probably pay more attention to it.”

The Marlins’ outbreak also drew the attention of public officials back in Miami. Florida — home of the Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays — has among the highest infection rates in the country, and before M.L.B. put the Marlins’ season on hold, the Nationals had already voted as a team against traveling to Miami this weekend.

Mayor Carlos Giménez of Miami-Dade County cast doubt Tuesday on the wisdom of the Marlins returning to their home market.

“If you think that somehow you’re going to be playing and then your players are going to go back to the community and you’re not going to get Covid-19 — I don’t know who’s advising you,” Giménez said. “They allow their players to go back to the community, and then they’re going to reflect their community.”

While the Phillies and the Pirates are allowed to hold games in Pennsylvania, state health officials denied permission for a third team, the Toronto Blue Jays, to play in the state. The Blue Jays had hoped to play home games in Pittsburgh after the Canadian government forbid them from playing in Toronto, citing the risks of travel to and from the United States.

The Blue Jays will use Buffalo, where their Class AAA affiliate plays, as their home base starting Aug. 11, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York suggested during his daily briefing on Tuesday that M.L.B. could stage all its games in the state. M.L.B. decided against holding its season in a single contained area this season, but Cuomo extended his offer anyway.

“New York State could host any Major League Baseball game that any team wants to play,” Cuomo said. “New York State has one of the lowest infection rates in the U.S.”

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from New York, and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.

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