Daily Duce: Major League Baseball’s return is off to an ugly start


The Blue Jays released their schedule for Major League Baseball’s 60-game sprint this summer.

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They’ll start off by playing in Tampa, which is ironic given the fact they just went through the difficult process of fleeing Florida, and then the Jays will have their “home” opener a few days later in which they’ll host the Washington Nationals somewhere.

Looking at exclusively the schedule and none of the context around it for a moment, the Blue Jays are certainly in tough here. As Keegan Matheson pointed out, Toronto has the third-toughest schedule based on 2019 winning percentages. We always knew this would be the case as the Jays would be playing exclusively teams from the American and National League East, but it’s a little more jarring to look at once it’s all laid out.

The first seven games being against Tampa and the defending World Series champs, the Nationals, is a tough start for the Jays who will be looking to come hot out of the gate. And then there are seven games against the New York Yankees in the final two-and-a-half weeks of the season. The only shitty teams the Jays will face all year are the Orioles and Marlins.

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And, of course, that’s if the season actually happens.

There isn’t much room for error this year as MLB tries to jam an already-tiny season into a small window. If there are any major issues or if there’s a big outbreak, this thing could very quickly all go up in smoke. Given how things have gone in the first few days of Summer Camp, there’s certainly some cause for concern.

The Oakland Athletics were supposed to start camp on Sunday after having players undergo tests on Friday. But, by the time Sunday rolled around, the tests were still sitting on an airplane in San Fransisco. As of Monday, they still hadn’t been received by MLB’s testing lab in Utah. Three teams reported that their testers didn’t show up as scheduled on Monday.

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The Nationals cancelled their practice on Monday due to MLB’s inability to get their test results back to them on time. General manager Mike Rizzo issued a pointed statement about the matter…

“Per MLB’s protocol, all players and staff were tested for Covid-19 on Friday, July 3rd. Seventy-two hours later, we have yet to receive the results of those tests,” Rizzo said in a release. “We cannot have our players and staff work at risk. Therefore, we have cancelled our team workout scheduled for this morning. We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff, and their families. Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”

As the league stumbles through its re-start, the skepticism of the players around the safety of playing is growing. Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves is one of the players who has tested positive for COVID-19 recently, and his experience with the virus resulted in his teammate, Nick Markakis, deciding to opt out.

“I talked to Freddie Freeman the other day, and just hearing the way he sounded over the phone kind of opened my eyes,” Markakis told reporters on Monday. “Freddie didn’t sound good. I hope he’s doing good, I hope he’s healthy, I know these guys need him more than anybody. Just to hear him, the way he sounded, it was tough.”

Multiple players have already opted out of playing. Some are rich guys, like Markakis and David Price, who have already made so much money they can easily afford to sit the whole season out, but others aren’t huge names, like Joe Ross, who, after struggling through injuries the past couple of seasons, fits the profile of somebody with a lot to prove and not as much to fall back on.

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The game’s best player, Mike Trout, said he doesn’t “feel comfortable” yet about returning to play. Even though he’s featured prominently in MLB’s return-to-play promotional video, there’s no guarantee that Trout will suit up for this two-month sprint.

We haven’t even reached the most difficult part of this whole operation, which is, you know, actually executing the season. Right now, players are just showing up and getting tested as a group before doing a training camp in one location for a few weeks. Imagine what it’ll look like during the season when teams are travelling every few days.

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, one of the league’s brightest and most insightful voices, presented skepticism around sports returning while the United States is failing so miserably to contain the virus.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” Doolittle said, as reported by The Washington Post. “We’re way worse off as a country than we were in March when we shut this thing down. And, like, look where the other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back.

“Sports are like the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”

While the NHL is planning to return to play by having teams quarantining in two controlled locations in Canada, MLB is hoping to execute a two-month season by flying around the United States, which saw more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.

And that brings us back to another key Blue Jays-related issue.

We still don’t know if the team is going to play in Toronto yet. Allowing the Jays to have their training camp in Toronto was one thing, but having players come in and out of Canada is a totally different animal. MLB is going to have to prove that it can effectively execute tests frequently and quickly in order for the Blue Jays to play at home and host hundreds of different players. They haven’t done that yet.

The first few days of MLB’s re-start have been a disaster. If they don’t get it together quickly, this whole thing could fall apart quickly.