By Michael Levitt
After the way last year’s Major League Baseball season went, it was expected that this season would go smoother. After all, the league enacted more stringent regulations for players and staff to follow for this year. This way, there will hopefully not be another incident like the one that happened with Justin Turner in the World Series. Not only did the Justin Turner mishap bring bad publicity to the league, but it cast a shadow over the league’s handling of the pandemic.
However, despite the league’s best efforts, there have already been multiple coronavirus outbreaks, including one that happened before the season even started. The Washington Nationals had its first four games postponed after it placed 11 players on the coronavirus injured list, with nine of those players still being sidelined for the team’s first game. Included in those players were closer Brad Hand, starting outfielder Kyle Schwarber, first baseman Josh Bell and starting pitchers Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester. Catchers Yan Gomes and Alex Avila were expected to be the team’s two catchers on their opening day roster, but after they were also placed on the coronavirus injured list, the club quickly signed veteran Jonathan Lucroy to replace one of them. Hand, Lester, Schwarber, Bell and Avila are all newcomers to the Nationals this year as well, and the team was counting on them to have decent-sized roles. They still can play a big part for the Nationals this year, and at this point, eight of the nine players who were on the coronavirus injured list for the team’s first game have since been activated and made their season debut. The only player who was on that list and has not played is Lester, though he is also recovering from neck surgery, so he is still getting up to speed.
Another coronavirus outbreak was with the Houston Astros. The club lost three of their most important hitters to the virus, as third baseman Alex Bregman, second baseman Jose Altuve and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez all went on the coronavirus injured list. The Astros also placed a couple other players on the coronavirus injured list, but most of those players have a chance to be back before Tuesday’s game. The only Astro who will likely not return on Tuesday will be Altuve, which has led fans to infer that he was the player that tested positive. According to the league protocols, any player that tests positive must quarantine for 10 days before they can return to the active roster. If that is the case, Altuve will likely not make his return until Saturday at the earliest. The outbreak has not caused any of Houston’s games to be postponed, but some players have been forced to take on bigger roles with starters out, including outfielder Michael Brantley and shortstop Carlos Correa.
The Chicago Cubs also had a coronavirus outbreak in their clubhouse, with relief pitchers Brandon Workman, Dan Winkler and Jason Adam being placed on the coronavirus injured list. They were likely placed there more as a precaution after two coaches tested positive for coronavirus, but no information was released as to whether the relief pitchers tested positive or were merely a close contact. Last year, the Cubs had no players or coaches test positive for coronavirus, which helped with their consistency on their way to the division title. As with the Astros, no games were postponed because of the outbreak, but reinforcements had to be called up from the minor leagues and some players have stepped up in place of the sidelined players. Chicago’s other team, the White Sox, also had a brief encounter with coronavirus as starting pitcher Dylan Cease tested positive, but he has since recovered and will take on a bigger role with key starting pitcher Lance Lynn going on the injured list due to a trapezius injury.
The most recent coronavirus outbreak was within the Minnesota Twins organization. Starting shortstop Andrelton Simmons had tested positive for coronavirus before the outbreak occurred and was placed on the injured list, but the Twins had at least two players test positive this past weekend. That caused the team’s games for Saturday, Sunday and Monday to be postponed. They will continue games Tuesday in a doubleheader with the Oakland Athletics that will make up Monday’s game. The Twins had no more positive tests on either Sunday or Monday, so the league cleared them to continue with their schedule. It is unknown when the team’s games from Saturday and Sunday will be made up, but they do play the Los Angeles Angels another time this season, so it could be pushed back to then. This is also good news for center fielder Byron Buxton, who has been ridiculous so far this season and will look to keep his hot streak going.
On a better note, clubs are helping their players receive the vaccine, which should help reduce the risk of more outbreaks in the future. There are some players that have said they do not want to take the vaccine, but teams are encouraging players and staff to receive the vaccine, and some have made group trips to get them together. The league’s regulations let a team have relaxed protocols after 85% of its traveling party is fully vaccinated, so as the season gets further along, it is likely that more clubs will reach that mark.
Everyone wants there to be no more issues with coronavirus for the rest of the season, but it is likely that someone will test positive at some point. The league’s protocols can hopefully prevent it from getting too out of control and derailing a team’s season, but since it is the future, we have no idea what is going to happen and what it will look like. As Cubs manager David Ross said about coronavirus, we must hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Edited by Emma Moloney