The viability of the 2020 MLB season as a fair, safe and competitive endeavor in the midst of a pandemic was stretched to the limit Tuesday — the sixth day of the regular season — as the league sorted through the many messy ramifications of the Miami Marlins’ novel coronavirus outbreak and ultimately altered the schedules of five teams.

In the end, the Marlins, who have seen fully half their 30-man roster test positive for the coronavirus in the past five days, were shut down through Sunday, and the Philadelphia Phillies, who hosted the Marlins for three games over the weekend, through Thursday. Like the Marlins, the Phillies had their entire roster tested in the wake of that series, but no Phillies player’s test so far has come back positive.

“Given the circumstances, MLB believes that it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning … for a resumption early next week,” MLB said in a statement. The Phillies’ hiatus was ordered, it said, “out of an abundance of caution.”

Meanwhile, the Yankees, who were expecting to play the Phillies in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, will instead travel to Baltimore to play the Orioles on those days as MLB moved to keep as many teams playing as possible. The Orioles were previously scheduled to host the Marlins on Wednesday and Thursday. Four scheduled games for Monday and Tuesday — featuring the Orioles at the Marlins and the Yankees at the Phillies — were previously postponed.

Major League Baseball’s first existential crisis came on the fifth day of its 2020 schedule when a coronavirus outbreak hit members of the Miami Marlins. (Reuters)

“We’re drinking out of a fire hose a little bit right now,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told reporters during a Zoom call Tuesday when asked about the on-the-fly schedule changes.

The Marlins’ shutdown also avoided a potential clash between MLB and the Washington Nationals, whose players voted near-unanimously Monday against playing in Miami against the Marlins this weekend in their scheduled series — which has now been postponed, with the Nationals getting the weekend off. It was unclear, and may remain so, whether the Nationals were willing to go so far as to boycott the series had MLB insisted it go on.

“MLB did the right thing,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “It’s all about keeping us safe — myself, the players, our staff, everybody.”

The statement from MLB said further rescheduling of games next week could be announced in the coming days — which probably hints at the Phillies’ scheduled series in Miami on Aug. 4-6 against the Marlins being either moved or postponed; in the event of the latter, the Phillies instead could make up the games against the Yankees that were postponed this week.

With a total of 11 postponements so far, and with an already-compressed schedule that makes it difficult if not impossible to make them all up, it appears increasingly probably some teams could play fewer than 60 games — in which case MLB would probably determine division standings and playoff spots by winning percentage. That would be similar to the strike-shortened 1981 season, in which some teams played as many as 111 games and some as few as 103.

MLB sought to downplay any alarm over the Marlins’ outbreak and the resulting, on-the-fly schedule changes, saying such obstacles were anticipated in the 113-page health and safety protocols agreed to by MLB and its players’ union to govern this unusual season’s operations.

Those protocols, MLB’s statement said: “were designed with a challenging circumstance like the one facing the Marlins in mind. [Tuesday’s response] was triggered immediately upon learning of the cluster of positive cases, including contact tracing and the quarantining and testing of all of the identified close contacts.”

MLB also touted the fact it had seen no new positive tests by any players, managers or coaches — apart from the Marlins — since Friday, encompassing more than 6,400 tests conducted. (Nationals slugger Juan Soto is among the players who received a positive test on Thursday; Soto remained sidelined Tuesday as he awaits reinstatement.)

The Marlins, however, went quickly from one new positive case — catcher Jorge Alfaro, who went on the injured list Friday — to four, and then to 11. By Tuesday, four more Marlins players received positive test results overnight, an MLB official said, bringing to 15 the number of players — plus at least two coaches — who have tested positive since Friday, making this by far the worst outbreak since MLB launched training camps in early July and its regular season Thursday.

Although MLB officials have not revealed what they believe triggered the Marlins’ cluster, Tuesday’s statement implied a lack of diligence on the part of the Marlins.

“The difficult circumstances of one Club reinforce the vital need to be diligent with the protocols in all ways, both on and off the field,” the statement read. “We will continue to bolster our protocols and make any necessary adjustments. The realities of the virus still loom large, and we must operate with that in mind every day. We are confident that Clubs and players will act appropriately, for themselves and for others, and the data provides reason to believe that the protocols can work effectively.”

However, the Marlins still present a medical and logistical problem for MLB without easy solutions going forward. For now, they are remaining in Philadelphia, where they last played Sunday and where players who have tested positive are isolating, per MLB protocols, and receiving care.

“All of our players, coaches and staff are, understandably, having a difficult time enduring this experience,” Marlins chief operating officer Derek Jeter said in a statement Tuesday. “After [Tuesday’s positive test results], we reached out to the Commissioner’s Office with concern for the health and safety of our team as well as our opponents. We have moved to a daily testing schedule while we isolate and quarantine appropriately, along with enacting additional preventive procedures with our traveling party.”

Once the Marlins start playing again, they can replace their sick players with reserves from their 30-man supplemental roster — which MLB instituted this season with precisely this sort of outbreak in mind.

However, it is becoming clear players and officials from other teams with road series in Miami on their schedules feel increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of traveling for several days at a time to one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in the United States — particularly after seeing what happened to the Marlins.

“We all decided that it was probably unsafe to go there,” Martinez said of the Nationals’ vote, in which every player but one voted against traveling to Miami. “It had nothing to do with the Miami Marlins. It was all about Miami and the state of Florida. This pandemic. [Players] didn’t feel safe.”

As of now, the Marlins’ regular season schedule shows 25 home games remaining in 2020 — including three more against the Nationals scheduled for Sept. 18-20. However, the Toronto Blue Jays were already forced to relocate most of their home games to Buffalo, after the Canadian government effectively blocked them from playing in Toronto, and the Marlins could also be forced to look for a new home if teams refuse to play them in Miami.

“We look forward to safely returning to Miami where we conducted a successful and healthy Spring 2.0 before departing on the road and experiencing challenges,” Jeter’s statement said. “For the time being, we will remain in Philadelphia and gather information in order to make informed decisions and prepare for our return to action next week.”

Even players on teams who won’t play the Marlins this season — with MLB limiting travel to cities within the same division and the corresponding division from the opposite league — have been shaken by the events of the past few days. Fourteen players opted out of playing this season, including established stars such as Buster Posey and David Price, and it’s possible that list will grow.

“There’s real anxiety for me, for all my teammates,” Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun told reporters. “I think we’ve found it very difficult to focus on baseball at all the last couple days. I know for me personally, I don’t feel comfortable with where we’re at.”

Asked whether he questions the wisdom of playing at all in this atmosphere, Braun said, “That thought crosses my mind, and I think everybody else’s mind as well.”

Jesse Dougherty contributed to this story, which has been updated.

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