Sports·The Buzzer

Is baseball blowing it already?

Monday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, covers the Marlins' coronavirus outbreak and what it means for MLB's (and other leagues') hope of playing a season during a pandemic.

Pair of game postponements prompt concern for remainder of season

Jose Urena, shown in this file photo from 2018, was scratched from Sunday's start and is reportedly one of the Marlins who tested positive. (Mark Brown/Getty Images)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Baseball is already in trouble

Just four days after finally getting its shortened season off the ground, Major League Baseball postponed two games today because of a coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins. And tougher decisions may lie ahead.

The Marlins' home opener tonight against Baltimore was called off after seven more Miami players and two coaches reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. This came after four Marlins reportedly tested positive before Sunday's game in Philadelphia — including Jose Urena, who was supposed to be the starting pitcher. So Miami reportedly has at least 13 cases in its clubhouse — 11 of the 33 players who have been travelling with the team, plus two coaches. Rather than fly home after Sunday's game, the team stayed in Philadelphia to quarantine and undergo testing.

The Marlins' outbreak also triggered the postponement of tonight's game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and the New York Yankees. At our publish time, there was no indication that anyone from those teams had tested positive. Major League Baseball said in a statement that both games were postponed while "additional" testing is conducted.

In related (and troubling) news, Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez says doctors recently discovered an issue with his heart that they believe is a result of his recent COVID-19 infection. The 27-year-old was cleared to return to workouts on July 18, but five days later he was ordered by doctors to avoid baseball activities after an MRI revealed an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be caused by viral infections.

MLB's situation with the Marlins isn't completely unprecedented. Major League Soccer and the  National Women's Soccer League kicked entire teams out of their tournaments because of outbreaks. But those tests happened before the games got started, giving the leagues enough time (barely, in MLS' case) to rework their schedules and move on with their tournaments relatively easily, given the circumstances. MLB is the first to have to deal with an outbreak in the thick of meaningful games.

The full impact of the Marlins outbreak isn't clear yet. Tuesday's Miami-Baltimore and Philadelphia-Yankees games are reportedly in jeopardy. And with baseball trying to cram 60 regular-season games for each team into two months, there's not a ton of scheduling leeway to work with.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to pause or even outright cancel the season in the event of an outbreak. It's unlikely he would call the whole season off so soon. Too much work has gone into this, and there's too much money at stake for too many influential people. But if other teams show outbreaks in the coming days, a pause or a cancellation suddenly becomes a stronger possibility.

The fact that baseball is already experiencing these problems does not bode well for its restart plan. Or, more to the point, its lack of a good one. Rather than sequester players and staff in a "bubble" environment (like the NHL, NBA, WNBA, MLS and NWSL), MLB opted to have teams play out of their home stadiums while players and staff live at home — when they're not travelling around the United States for road games. This worked fine for the Korean baseball league. But that country has its coronavirus situation largely under control. The U.S. very much does not. And several MLB teams, including the Marlins, play in areas that are hot spots right now.

If you want to broaden out the potential implications even wider, today's news is an ominous sign for the NFL. Its plan is basically the same as baseball's: teams will play out of their home stadiums and players will live at home. Plus, football teams have much bigger rosters. Playing only once a week could help mitigate the pitfalls, as could the fact that the season opener is still more than six weeks away. But the NFL still hasn't even ruled out allowing fans in some stadiums. Does that sound like a league that has things figured out?

MLS also reportedly has a tentative plan to resume its regular season with teams playing in their home stadiums starting Aug. 22. That's 11 days after the ongoing MLS is Back Tournament ends. Under the plan, reportedly, the three Canadian teams would only play each other for their first six games, which run to mid-September. The hope is that the border is open after that. But if not, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver would have to set up shop in the U.S.

Who knows — maybe things calm down and everyone pulls this off. But today's news suggests that baseball, the NFL and MLS (and maybe even the bubble leagues, too) could be on shakier ground than we figured.

Rob Manfred has the power to pause or cancel the 2020 season in the event of a virus outbreak. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

In case you missed it...

Given today's baseball developments, it's harder to view this stuff in a positive light. But, for the first time in a long time, we had a lot of sports to watch over the weekend. Here's a quick rundown of what happened:

All three Canadian teams were eliminated from the MLS is Back Tournament. Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps all lost their round-of-16 matches. Montreal and Vancouver both snuck into the knockout stage as wild cards, so their defeats weren't too disappointing. Toronto had higher hopes after winning its group, but fell 3-1 to wild card New York City FC. This round wraps up with two matches tonight and another pair tomorrow night. The quarter-finals begin Thursday night.

The surprising Houston Dash won the National Women's Soccer League title. Since entering the league in 2014, Houston had never reached the playoffs. And its round-robin record in the Challenge Cup tournament was nothing to write home about: 1-2-1, which was good for fourth place out of eight teams. But the Dash survived a couple of tight matches in the quarter-finals and semis (and caught a break when two-time defending champ North Carolina got upset in the quarters) before beating Chicago 2-0 in yesterday's final. Canadian Sophie Schmidt converted an early penalty kick to open the scoring. The NWSL pulled off the tournament, which is replacing the regular season and the playoffs this year, after a rocky start. The Orlando Pride were removed prior to the event because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, but no other players tested positive after that. Read more about the final here.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League opened its Summer Series tournament. A pair of games were played both Saturday and Sunday in St. Catharines, Ont., where the CEBL will decide its 2020 champion over the next two weeks. The league is also experimenting with the Elam Ending — an increasingly popular idea in the basketball world that sees teams play to a target score in the final few minutes. The Niagara River Lions are the only team that played twice on the opening weekend. They went 1-1. Today's games are the Guelph Nighthawks vs. the Hamilton Honey Badgers at 5 p.m. ET, and the Ottawa Blackjacks vs. the Edmonton Stingers at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch those games, and every game in the tournament, live here and on the CBC Gem streaming service. 

The WNBA season tipped off. Six games are already in the books in Bradenton, Fla., where teams are bubbled for the shortened 22-game campaign. The biggest news from opening weekend from a Canadian perspective was national-team star Kia Nurse injuring her ankle. The New York Liberty guard left in the second quarter of Saturday's game and didn't return. Nurse reportedly suffered an ankle sprain. Her status for Wednesday's game against Dallas is unclear.

The Toronto Blue Jays lost two of their first three games. Predictably, the bullpen looked shaky in the two losses at Tampa Bay. Today the Blue Jays open a four-game set vs. the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals. The last two of those are, officially, Toronto's first home games of the season. But they'll be played in Washington as upgrades are made to Buffalo's Sahlen Field to bring it up to big-league standards. The Jays will play another "home" series on the road (July 31-Aug. 2 in Philadelphia) before they move into Buffalo for the rest of their home games starting Aug. 11.

Quickly...

As NHL players settle into their bubbles, the league reported zero positive tests from the final week of training camps. That's obviously a good sign for everyone hoping the playoffs can start without a hitch this weekend. Players arrived at their designated bubbles yesterday (Edmonton for the Western Conference teams, Toronto for the East). Every team will play one exhibition (those are happening Tuesday through Thursday) before the real games begin Saturday at noon ET. Read about players' first impressions of the bubble here and about how some Winnipeg Jets are adjusting to life away from home here.

Coyotes GM John Chayka left his job on the brink of the restart — and the team is not happy. You could sense the anger and the hurt in Arizona's press release, which is generally not somewhere you expect to see much emotion. In addition to saying the team is "disappointed in his actions and his timing," the release contained this gem of a sentence: "Chayka has chosen to quit on a strong and competitive team, a dedicated staff, and the Arizona Coyotes fans, the greatest fans in the NHL." In his own statement, Chayka blamed ownership for his departure. Reportedly, new owner Alex Meruelo cut Chayka out of contract talks with star Taylor Hall and denied Chayka permission to pursue another job. Chayka joined the Coyotes' front office in 2015 and later became, at 26 years old, the youngest GM in NHL history. To replace him, Arizona promoted former NHL player Steve Sullivan from assistant to interim GM. The Coyotes, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012, face Nashville in a best-of-five series that opens Sunday. Read more about Chayka's departure from Arizona here

Eddie Shack died. He didn't put up the most impressive numbers in his 17-year NHL career (the majority spent in Toronto) but "The Entertainer" made a lasting impression with his colourful personality and good cheer. Along with his sense of humour and trademark moustache, fans loved Shack's hard-nosed playing style and willingness to drop the gloves (he had a few memorable tilts with Gordie Howe). He could play a little too: Shack had four seasons with at least 23 goals and he won four Stanley Cups — including the Leafs' last one, in 1967. Shack was 83. Read more about his life and career here.

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