Could Covid-19 Ruin the MLB Playoffs?

The virus sidelined at least 18 players on seven teams this week

I’m nervous that enough people aren’t talking about this. In the last seven days, at least 18 players across MLB have been placed on the covid-19 injured list, including Zack Greinke, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Wood, and eight members of the Boston Red Sox. If the playoffs began today, all of those players except Syndergaard would be expected to contribute to their club’s postseason push. And all of them would be out.

So what are we going to do when this happens in October? I say when because we are way past the point of if. The Delta variant continues to spiral out of control and infect even those who are vaccinated. Players are tested frequently. Even guys who are doing everything right are testing positive. Some are catching the virus from their young children who have returned to school. Others from teammates they spend 10 hours a day with in close quarters. The source of the outbreaks no longer matters. Last season it was assumed that anyone who caught Covid-19 was doing something wrong. Now we know a baseball player doesn’t have to go to a strip club without a mask to get sick and then infect his whole team.

So what are the Yankees going to do if Gerrit Cole gets sick? What will the Dodgers do if Walker Buehler or Max Scherzer fall ill? Honestly? What they will do is lose. And there’s nothing that their teams will be able to do to prepare for it, because those players are not replaceable. (Cole, who is vaccinated, already battled Covid-19 earlier this summer but none of us have any idea how soon a person could be re-infected despite their vaccination status).

I’m not writing this to be a downer. I just think we’re headed into a postseason where anything Is possible and trying to predict what will happen is even more fruitless than usual. The second wild card team in the National League will have the worst record of any playoff team. And if they win their one game playoff, they will get to face either the Brewers, Dodgers, or Giants. They will be heavy underdogs. But if the team they’re playing comes down with Covid-19 like the Red Sox did this week? They could skate to the NLCS.

Teams are trying to combat potential outbreaks by encouraging their players to get vaccinated, which is great and all, but there are still no guarantees. The Red Sox are one of the seven teams in MLB that have not yet reached the 85% vaccination threshold that clubs need before they can enjoy relaxed Covid-19 restrictions. Unvaccinated players probably accelerated the outbreak, but vaccinations don’t necessarily stop team-wide epidemics. The Yankees have endured three separate outbreaks even though they are one of 23 teams to hit the 85% threshold.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, MLB is still planning a return to the normal playoff format where teams fly across the country to play each other, as opposed to the bubble city format they used last year. In 2020 the world champion Dodgers lived in a hotel in Dallas for a month and Justin Turner still somehow got Covid-19. Turner was pulled off the field in the late innings of the game 6 clincher. If the Rays had somehow made a comeback, the World Series might have been postponed for days or weeks while the league did contact tracing and held its breath that the Dodgers weren’t in the midst of an outbreak. But because Turner was the only positive test and the Dodgers won the World Series 30 minutes later, MLB escaped disaster.

Now we are staring at a month of potential Justin Turner situations. Some people question the validity of the Dodgers’ 2020 championship because of the truncated 60 game season. What will they say if the 2021 World Series winds up being the Pawtucket Red Sox versus the Sacramento River Cats?

To avoid this nightmare scenario this October, teams need to confine players to bubbles within team hotels. If a player is on the bubble of making a postseason roster, his vaccination status should be a considered factor. Availability is the best ability.

We’re about to enter the wildest October ever. The team left standing in the end might not be the best on the field, but they will be the best at avoiding the plague.