MLB sets playoff bubbles: Schedule, neutral-site locations and everything else to know for 2020 postseason

Major League Baseball announced plans for its 2020 postseason on Tuesday. After getting approval from the Players Association, the league announced it would hold the final three rounds of the playoffs — the Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series — at neutral-site locations. Players will be housed nearby to set up one-location bubbles for each series. 

The league will start the playoffs with the Wild Card Series on Sept. 29. The eight best-of-three matchups in that round will be played at the higher seed’s home ballpark.

Here are the bubble locations for the expanded playoffs:

  • NLDS: Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and Minute Maid Park in Houston 
  • ALDS: Petco Park in San Diego and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles 
  • NLCS: Globe Life Field
  • ALCS: Petco Park
  • World Series: Globe Life Field

A bubble approach for MLB will help minimize the risk of another coronavirus outbreak. Shortly after the 2020 season began, there was a major coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins. The St. Louis Cardinals also suffered from a team-wide outbreak and both put the MLB season in jeopardy. All in all, the league has been forced to postpone 43 total games on the schedule due to positive COVID-19 cases.

A COVID-19 outbreak during the postseason would wreak havoc over the tournament’s schedule and competitive integrity. 

Here are four things to know about the league’s plan for the 2020 playoffs:

1. This will be a change from regular season

When Major League Baseball returned to play in July, it was the only major American professional team sports league committed to traveling amid the coronavirus pandemic. Other sports leagues like the WNBA, NBA and MLS determined that a one-location bubble setup was the right choice for their return-to-play plans.

Our R.J. Anderson previously broke down why baseball didn’t use the bubble plan for the 2020 regular season

When baseball first returned, there were no formal restrictions for players or any other team personnel, like managers and coaches. After the outbreaks within the Marlins and Cardinals organizations, the league doubled down on wearing masks in the dugouts during games and adhering to social distancing guidelines. The league also added the requirement that every team is to travel with a compliance officer, who ensures that the team staff and players adhere to the league’s health and safety protocols.

Although the league’s postseason setup won’t eliminate travel altogether — this would actually be the first teams are leaving their geographically-based divisions — a bubble setup for each series in the postseason will help minimize the chances of an outbreak. Players will likely still have to follow similar, strict guidelines from the regular season.

2. Quarantines for players, families to begin week before playoffs

During negotiations on the format for this year’s postseason, one of the disagreements between players and the league was the restrictions for players’ families who wish to enter the bubble. As of Tuesday, families will be permitted to be with players leading up to, and during the postseason, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports.

Players’ families will be allowed to quarantine with players on contending teams for seven days leading into the postseason. Then, they’ll be able to remain together for the entirety of their team’s playoff run. For the families that decide to go this route, they will be considered part of MLB’s bubble. All members inside of the bubble will reportedly be tested daily.

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, all players on contending teams will move into hotels beginning next week (the final week of the regular season) to “create a quarantine-like situation before the playoffs.” Here’s more from Sherman:

Some players fought against the concept believing that the sport has done well in the last month in minimizing COVID-19 cases and were concerned that teams that went into the quarantine in late September and reached the World Series could be away from families for a month or more.

But MLB has strongly expressed a fear of coming this far and not concluding the playoffs and pushed hard for the safest possible protocols to finish out the year. 

So the plan that was hammered out requires all contending clubs — even those at home — to move to a hotel in the last week of the regular season. All players on the 40-man roster and IL will be asked to join that quarantine because once it begins, clubs can no longer summon a player from the alternate site to join the 28-man roster — it will only be those who are in the quarantine.

As teams are eliminated from playoff contention, players on those clubs can leave the hotels if they desire.

Families of managers and coaches were not included in the MLB/MLBPA agreement due to there simply not being enough capacity in hotels. But, as the postseason field narrows, there will be room, Rosenthal adds. All members inside of the bubble will be tested daily.

3. Locations are set; attendance is up in the air

The World Series will be held in the Rangers‘ new ballpark, and the bubbles are such that no team will play at home after the first round. In the best-of-three Wild Card round at the start of the playoffs, the higher seed will host all games at its home ballpark. Those series will quickly trim the playoff field to eight teams who will move to the neutral sites.

Fans have not been able to attend MLB games this season due to the pandemic, though that could change in October. Speaking earlier this week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he hopes fans will be able to attend LCS and World Series games in some capacity.

4. Postseason format, dates, schedule and bracket

This year’s postseason will look different for a variety of reasons. The 2020 playoffs will consist of an expanded, 16-team field, for one. There will be eight teams from each league — more than half of MLB that make the playoffs. The division winners, the second-place teams and then two teams with the best records beyond those six clubs, no matter their divisional alignment or their position within those divisions.

But after that first Wild Card Series, the remaining eight teams will play a more traditional postseason format.

Because there is not going to be travel between ballparks during the Division and Championship Series, the schedule for both series will not include any off days. Another notable change will be the guaranteed eight-game playoff day on Sept. 30, with all of the Wild Card Series taking place — four of which will be elimination games.

Here are key dates and a bracket for the 2020 postseason:

  • Sept. 29: Wild Card Series begins
  • Sept. 30: Eight-game day with every Wild Card Series in action
  • Oct. 5: ALDS begins
  • Oct. 6: ALCS begins
  • Oct. 11: ALCS begins
  • Oct. 12: NLCS begins
  • Oct. 17: ALCS Game 7 (if necessary)
  • Oct. 18: NLCS Game 7 (if necessary)
  • Oct. 20: World Series begins
  • Oct. 28: World Series Game 7 (if necessary)
Baseball’s month-long postseason will begin on Sept. 29. The Division, Championship and World Series will be held at neutral site bubble locations.

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