Wouldn’t you know it: Just when the Mariners were getting kind of fun, the MLB season is teetering on the brink of extinction.
It’s no exaggeration to say that each day could be the last for Baseball 2020. One crisis begets another. Six teams — a full 20 percent of baseball — are idle this weekend, either because of their own COVID-19 eruptions or their proximity on the schedule to afflicted teams. Lorenzo Cain became the latest prominent player to opt out on Saturday. Nineteen games and counting have been called off, leaving an increasingly tenuous outlook, not just for the next two months, but the next two weeks. Or the next two days.
So I guess what I’m saying is, you’d better savor this young Mariners team while you can — warts and all. And while their 3-2 loss in 10 innings to Oakland on Saturday night was particularly brutal, there have been plenty of hopeful signs over these past few days. Not all of them are named Kyle, even.
Over time, their flaws would no doubt be exposed. That’s the raw truth of the baseball season.
But what if time runs out first? If not a complete shutdown of the season, some are pushing for a hiatus of about a week to allow MLB to regain control of the situation. The Marlins are in complete limbo with 21 members of the organization testing positive for COVID-19, and now everyone is holding their breath and hoping that the Cardinals, with six positive tests (three players and three staff members) don’t follow that path.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said before Saturday’s game he remains optimistic that the season will be concluded. Embattled commissioner Rob Manfred declared that the games will go on, but that players needed to do a better job of following safety protocols. Manfred also made that point in a phone call to union chief Tony Clark. There have been reports that Manfred has alerted MLB’s national television partners to be prepared for alternative programming as soon as the end of this weekend in case the sport is shut down.
Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners general manager, is obviously monitoring closely what’s happening with the Marlins and Cardinals. He puts his full faith in the protocols baseball has set up.
“I think what we’re finding out, whether it be through three weeks of summer camp, and it’s now eight, nine days into a regular season, so we’re going on a month now — we have the ability, as a league, as a country, as a global population, to create a set of protocols that works,’’ Dipoto told Ryan Divish on Saturday before the game.
“We found this out in not having to enter a bubble. But everybody has to follow the protocols to make it work.”
Servais and Dipoto said that all the Mariners can do at this point is follow the safety rules to the best of their ability. Servais said that he’s constantly getting reminders when they get a bit lax, especially now that the Mariners, like all teams, have a staff member dedicated to monitoring protocol.
On Friday, for instance, the Mariner relievers were sitting too close together in the bullpen, Servais was told, and the dugout spacing needed to improve when the Mariners came off the field on defense.
“All we can do is control our own response,’’ Dipoto said. “We will continue to do that and abide by the protocols. I’m sure we will not be 100 percent successful in managing that. That’s inevitable. But what we’re finding out as an industry is that if everyone follows the guidelines, it makes sense, and we are able to tamp this out.”
That may be wishful thinking, based on the amount of disruption in barely over a week of games.
“Sure, there has to be concerns,’’ Dipoto said. “There are 29 other teams, and while I think most or all of them are following those protocols, it takes one mistake. And as we’re finding out with this virus, one mistake can lead to a chain reaction that none of us can control.”
Every team would be hurt in unique ways if the season were curtailed. The damage would be immense for the Mariners, who really needed 162 games for the nurturing and evaluation of their young players; they are at least determined to get the most out of the 60 allotted to them. If those, too, are reduced, it would be a further blow to their rebuilding blueprint.
“We can only control what we can control,’’ Dipoto said. “I learned a long time ago, if we focus on that, it gives us the best chance. And that’s what we’re doing — not getting too concerned with what might happen. Just make sure we’re hitting our marks. We’re following the protocols and we continue to do what we’re doing. Because as we’re seeing even in these eight games, this has been incredibly valuable for our development, for our young players, for our confidence levels, and I think for our fan base.
“Not just being able to see baseball again, but the energy this team emanates. It’s fun. And at a time where the world needs fun, I think we’ve been fun. And it has been incredibly valuable to us in just giving these guys the reps. And I hope it lasts. But only if it’s healthy along the way.”
Therein lies the rub. The Mariners grow and develop with each outing — even Saturday’s, when they squandered a golden opportunity to win in the ninth. They really want, and need, to keep playing through September. But it already might be out of their control.