Pseudobubbles
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-27 23:30

I awoke this morning to the news that fourteen players and staff in the Miami Marlins organization had tested positive for COVID-19.

Oh, hell.

This was the inevitable trouble everybody hoped they could avoid confronting. But there’s no avoiding it now. You have to stare the trouble straight in the eye.

Maybe the outbreak is limited to just the Marlins, and everyone else can work around it. Or maybe this is all a terrible idea, and the season should be cancelled. I don’t know.

But with only one team currently affected, I kind of doubt MLB will just give up and cancel the season. I explained on Twitter what I thought would happen instead:

The NL/AL East pseudo-bubble, being compromised, will be shut down for a week or so and reset until tests clear. The Central and West pseudo-bubbles will keep going. Playoffs will be awarded on winning percentages.

I like that word, by the way: “pseudo-bubble”. But does it really need the hyphen? Nah. Pseudobubble! Pseudobubble, pseudobubble, pseudobubble.

There are three pseudobubbles in MLB this year, because the AL/NL East teams only play each other, the AL/NL Central teams only play each other, and the AL/NL West teams also form a closed circuit.

MLB has pseudobubbles because they are implementing their restart unlike the other American sports leagues that have relaunched. NWSL, MLS, WNBA, NBA and NHL are playing inside true bubbles, where nobody can move between inside and outside the bubble without strict protocols.

MLB only has a bubble when they’re on the road: they go from plane to hotel to ballpark, and don’t interact with anyone outside their bubble while traveling. When they’re not traveling, however, they live in their own homes, where other members of their households can interact with the general public, and potentially bring a team member in contact with the virus.

The pseudo part of the bubble is where it seems inevitable that the MLB protocols will eventually fail. Some player will catch the virus from who knows where, and before the testing can detect the problem, it has spread to half the team. (See: Marlins, Miami, above.) And if, in turn, that one team spreads it to an opposing team, then the whole season just might fall apart.

The A’s are not in the same pseudobubble as the Marlins, so the A’s-Angels game proceeded as scheduled.

The A’s won the game, 3-0. It was a fairly unremarkable victory, as ballgames go. There were a few nice plays. Matt Chapman fielded a grounder at third and threw out a runner at home to prevent a run. That was followed by nifty 1-2-3 double play started by Chris Bassitt. Almost the entirety of the excitement in the game came in the last at-bat, when Mike Trout came up as the tying run with two outs in the ninth. Joakim Soria struck Trout out with a fastball on the top of the zone that the umpire called strike three. Trout did not agree, and protested as vehemently as Mike Trout protests, which is to say some, but I’ve seen a lot worse.

The most memorable part of the game was not found in play-by-play. What was notable was the effect the Marlins news had on the players. A lot more players were wearing masks during the game. Matt Olson put one on anytime he was holding a runner on first. A lot of baserunners put on their masks when they reached base, too.

Getting the MLB season launched was a difficult accomplishment, and there was a danger that players might become overconfident with the protocols they set up, and let their behavior get lax. The Marlins news, if it does not bring down the whole season, is a sobering reminder of how fragile these protocols are. If the players don’t comprehend exactly how pseudo their bubble is, at any moment the whole thing could pop.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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