Baseball

MLB announces 60-game schedule, July start for 2020 season

AP, KYODO

Major League baseball issued a 60-game schedule Tuesday night that will start July 23 or 24 in empty ballparks as the sport tries to push ahead amid the coronavirus following months of acrimony.

A dramatically altered season with games full of new rules was the final result of failed financial negotiations. But for fans eager to see any baseball this year, at least now they can look forward to opening day.

The announcement by MLB came while more players continue to test positive for the virus — at least seven on the Philadelphia Phillies alone. And a stark realization remained, that if health situations deteriorate, all games could still be wiped out.

"What happens when we all get it?" Milwaukee pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted Monday.

Three Japanese players — Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder/infielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Shun Yamaguchi — will be embarking on their rookie seasons in MLB.

"With a lot of conflicting information, I was worried that the season would be canceled. Now that the decision to play games has been made, I'm going to prepare myself to be in top shape," Akiyama said.

Meanwhile, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda, who was traded to the Minnesota Twins in February, said "I'm simply happy that it has been decided. I'm not sure how the (60-game schedule) will affect the timing of pitching changes."

The Los Angeles Angels' two-way star Shohei Ohtani is expected to return to the mound this year after Tommy John surgery prevented him from pitching in 2019.

One day after the players' association rejected an economic agreement and left open the possibility of a grievance seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, the bickering sides agreed on an operations manual. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred then unilaterally imposed the schedule, his right under a March agreement with the union.

In a twist, the sides expanded the designated hitter to games between National League teams for the first time and instituted the radical innovation of starting extra innings with a runner on second base.

Playoff teams remain at 10 for now — there is still talk of a possible expansion. The rejected deal had called for 16 teams.

Players will start reporting for the resumption of training on July 1. It remains to be seen which players will report back to work — high-risk individuals are allowed to opt out and still receive salary and service time, but others who sit out get neither money nor the service credit needed for eligibility for free agency and salary arbitration.

Each team will play 10 games against each of its four division rivals and 20 total games against the five clubs in the corresponding regional division in the other league, according to details obtained by The Associated Press.

This will be MLB's shortest season since 1878, a schedule of such brevity that some fans may question the legitimacy of stats and records.

No matter what, the season will be among the most unusual ever for a sport that takes pride in the race for titles being a marathon and not a sprint: Washington started 19-31 and 27-33 last year but finished 93-69 to earn a wild card and won a seven-game World Series for its first title.

"There’s a lot more pressure because in a 60-game schedule, I think that you have 25 percent more teams that can compete, that had no idea they were going to compete for 162 games,” said Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, now a broadcaster.

The trade deadline will be Aug. 31 and the deadline to be in an organization for postseason eligibility is Sept. 15. Teams can resume making trades Friday, when rosters will no longer be frozen.

Active rosters will be 30 players during the first two weeks of the season, 28 during the second two weeks and 26 after that. They will not expand to 28 on Sept. 1, as originally intended this year.

With no minor leagues, teams would be allowed to retain 60 players each, including a taxi squad. Up to three players from the taxi squad can travel with a team to a game, and one of the three must be a catcher.

MLB is keeping the planned innovation that pitchers must face three batters or finish a half inning — players refused to agree a year ago but also waived their right to block.

The injured list minimum for pitchers will remain 10 days rather than revert to 15, as initially intended.

Public opinion shredded both sides as while they were locked in a ferocious financial battle during a pandemic that has led to more than 120,000 deaths and 2.3 million infections in the U.S. and also led to a 14.7 percent unemployment rate, the highest since the Great Depression.

Major League Baseball issued a 60-game schedule Tuesday night that will start July 23 or 24 in empty ballparks as the sport tries to push ahead amid the coronavirus following months of acrimony.

Players are being given staggered reporting times over several days for intake screening. The time will be used for coronavirus testing ahead of the resumption of workouts, which were stopped March 12 due to the pandemic.

Because of an uptick in infections in Florida and Arizona's summer heat, 28 teams currently are leaning toward training in their regular-season ballparks.

A remaining hurdle for MLB is the Toronto Blue Jays, the lone club based outside the United States.

The Canadian government is open to MLB playing in Toronto this summer, but the league has not submitted the required plan to health authorities, Canadian officials said Tuesday.

A senior federal government official said if MLB submitted an acceptable restart plan to the government, an exemption letter similar to the one provided to the National Hockey League could be provided.

But the official said the government had not received a proposal from MLB. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, said he has read an MLB proposal but it “doesn’t mention anything about travel to Canada at this time."

"If there is some interest in that we would have to get a proposal from them, to see how they would undertake the uniqueness of bringing the team and other teams up here to play and how that would work,” Williams said.

Anyone entering Canada for non-essential reasons must quarantine for 14 days, and the U.S.-Canada border remains closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21.

There has been talk the Blue Jays could play at their training facility in Dunedin, Florida, but the facility was shuttered after one player showed symptoms of possible coronavirus, and the virus upended plans of many clubs to resume training at their Florida facilities due to a rise in cases in the state. Most teams intend to work out in their regular-season ballparks, but where Toronto is going to play remains uncertain.

“The regular-season locale is still a work in progress. That’s all we can say at this time," Blue Jays spokesman Richard Griffin said.

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