COVID-19 testing delays
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Major League Baseball attempts to explain COVID-19 testing delays

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Multiple teams had to delay or cancel workouts today because of COVID-19 testing delays. Major League Baseball was unable to send out COVID-19 tests and received test results back in compliance with the league’s safety protocols. It was a bad look for the league, especially given the harsh words general managers of two teams — the Athletics and the Nationals — had for MLB’s failures in this regard.

Beyond the bad look it was bad substantively, as (a) teams and players not knowing test results makes it harder for everyone to carry on in a safe and responsible manner and to identify which players or personnel should be isolated; and (b) canceled team workouts put the canceling teams at a competitive disadvantage compared to teams who did not have to cancel. The Athletics, as we speak, have still not had a full-squad workout. The Yankees and other teams have played simulated games already because they did not, like other teams, experience COVID-19 testing delays.

Against that backdrop, Major League Baseball has issued a statement. Here’s what it had to say about the test delays:

“As of today, more than 95% of the tests under the Intake Screening period have been conducted, analyzed and shared with all 30 Clubs.  All of the individuals among the 95% have now moved on to the phase that will test them every other day.  The remaining number of outstanding tests are expected to be completed today. 

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend.  The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned.  Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays.  We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence.  We commend the affected Clubs that responded properly by cancelling workouts.

“We appreciate the great cooperation from the players as well as the hard work of the Clubs and many internal and external staff members under these challenging circumstances.  The process has not been without some unforeseen difficulties, which are being addressed with the service providers that are essential to the execution of the protocols.  It is important to be mindful that nearly all of the individuals have been tested as planned.  The health and safety of our players and employees will remain our highest priorities.”

As was clear as early as this morning — and as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported this afternoon — the issue was that Major League Baseball did not, apparently, appreciate that FedEx did not have a full complement of delivery services over a holiday weekend. Really. As Sherman put it, “normal delivery service is FedEx, but on holiday weekend it did not pick up or deliver.”

So what did MLB do? It went to its backup courier which, Sherman reported, relies on commercial air travel. In Sherman’s words, “between the holiday weekend/COVID issues not as many planes were available to get the samples where they needed to be.” Sherman went on to cite the large volume of tests to process since it was the opening of the season, causing a backlog.

I am the father of two teenagers. If one of them messed up and I was presented with a set of excuses this poor I’d ground them twice as long as I had originally planned to on general principle.

Note that the league uses the word “unforeseen,” not “unforeseeable.” There’s a reason for this: the Fourth of July — and the fact that a lot of things close on the Fourth of July — is something that happens every year. It doesn’t sneak up on a person. MLB’s failure to see that a national holiday may require a little extra planning for a set of protocols which require thousands of bodily fluid samples to be shipped from 30 locations to Salt Lake City, Utah and be turned around in 48 hours is not a matter of it being blindsided. It’s a matter of carelessness.

It’s also worth noting that FedEx’s shipping over the holiday weekend has been online since the first of the year. Here, look for yourself:

 

I don’t know what level of service MLB uses, but there were options. Or, at the very least — if MLB wasn’t springing for the more expensive shipping — there was advanced notice.

It’s also worth noting that if you have a backup shipper and that backup shipper (a) is relying in commercial travel; but (b) somehow is unable to secure commercial travel when its backup services are needed, that maybe you need a better backup shipper. And, I would argue, maybe it’s something MLB should’ve verified beforehand.

Finally, that whole “backlog of tests due to everyone showing up to camps” thing Sherman referred to and which is referred to in passing in MLB’s statement as a means of explaining the COVID-19 testing delays doesn’t really cut it given that, again, MLB knew that everyone was reporting for camp in the middle of or toward the end of last week. No matter what its plans were for the every-other-day testing that will be done once things are up and running, it knew that several thousand tests had to be done and processed at the outset. That many tests in a short period of time were, again, “unforeseen,” according to MLB’s statement but they were not unforeseeable.

The rest of MLB’s statement is used to talk up how many tests it has done and how it is closing the gap due to the COVID-19 testing delays. At the time of release, “more than 95% of the tests” to be done on intake were done and the rest would be done by the end of the day today. It notes that results for “the majority” of the samples taken before the out-of-nowhere Fourth of July holiday got going (June 27-July 3) were reported the day after the sample collections occurred. It also adds that the Utah laboratory it is using “is operating on a seven-day-a-week schedule from July 5th through the end of the World Series.”

Here’s hoping that the league consults FedEx’s Labor Day hours before early September.

Rays beat Mets 8-5, clinch 1st AL East title in 10 years

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NEW YORK — Confetti instead of champagne. Silly string instead of beer.

The Tampa Bay Rays, long accustomed to doing more with less, figured out a way to maximize the division-clinching celebration they were allowed to enjoy during a 2020 season shortened by the coronavirus.

Randy Arozarena homered twice and the Rays clinched their first AL East title in 10 years Wednesday night with an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets.

“I’m completely dry right now, which I’m not a huge fan of,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, said with a grin. “But you have to adapt to what we’re asked of.”

With teams instructed to celebrate in a muted and socially distant style, the Rays went old school – or maybe elementary school – with their clinching party.

The team filed slowly onto the field after Nick Anderson fanned Andres Gimenez for the final out. A couple of players shot off canisters filled with confetti that eventually dotted the grass and dirt at Citi Field. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged before the Rays doused one another with silly string and lit some cigars in the visiting clubhouse.

Later, hooting and hollering could be heard from the visitors’ dugout.

“We’re little kids trapped in grown men’s bodies,” Kiermaier said.

Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe also went deep for the Rays to back Tyler Glasnow‘s six solid innings. Tampa Bay will be home at quirky Tropicana Field for a best-of-three first-round playoff series beginning next Tuesday.

It is the third division crown for the thrifty Rays, whose payroll this season is just over $28 million – more than only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Tampa Bay, which began play in 1998, also won the AL East, home of two big-spending powers in the Yankees and Red Sox, in 2008 and 2010.

“It feels great to win the division, no matter what division you’re in,” Kiermaier said. “But especially the American League East – it’s just a different animal.”

After missing a chance to clinch Tuesday, the Rays went into Wednesday again needing just a win or a Yankees loss against Toronto to lock up the division championship.

The Rays (37-20) broke a 2-all tie in the sixth on Arozarena’s two-run homer off Michael Wacha and pulled away, taking care of business themselves while New York was routed 14-1 by the Blue Jays.

“At the end of the day, a clinch is a clinch,” said Wendle, who homered in the second. “But to do it on a win – everybody’s kind of riding the high of winning the game along with the division. We didn’t want to see it come down to them losing a game.”

Tampa Bay also is closing in on wrapping up the top record in the AL and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Lowe, who had an RBI fielder’s choice in the third, hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Willy Adames added an RBI single later in the inning and Arozarena homered again in the ninth.

The insurance came in handy for the Rays when the Mets scored three times off Oliver Drake in the ninth – via an RBI groundout by Robinson Cano and a two-run homer by Todd Frazier – before Anderson closed the door.

“I think we had the game pretty much in control (and) certainly recognized what was going on in Buffalo, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare for a moment like that – it’s pretty special,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Glasnow (5-1) allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

Gimenez and Dominic Smith homered off Glasnow in the final home game of the season for the Mets, whose long-shot playoff hopes were further damaged with the loss. New York began the day 2 1/2 games out of an NL wild-card spot.

“We still have a shot with the four games left and we’re competing,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’ve just got to do what we do – just keep fighting like we did in the ninth.”

Wacha allowed four runs on six hits and struck out four in six innings.

STABLE SHIRT

Rays pitcher Charlie Morton sported a T-shirt picturing a stable of horses as he spoke with reporters during a pregame Zoom call. Morton did little to discourage the notion the shirt was inspired by Cash’s viral rant earlier this month, when he declared the Rays have “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph” after Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw near Mike Brousseau’s head in the ninth inning Sept. 4.

“The stable shirt?” Morton said. “It was in my locker last week and I like horses.”

With a grin obviously growing even behind his Rays mask, Morton said he rode horses as a kid.

“So I was ecstatic to see this shirt in my locker and I wore it,” he said.

As for the fireballers on the Rays’ pitching staff?

“We’ve got some guys that throw really hard,” Morton said.

ANOTHER LOSING SEASON

The loss guaranteed the Mets (25-31) will finish with a sub-.500 record for the ninth time in the last 12 seasons – a total matched or exceeded only by the Chicago White Sox (nine), Miami Marlins (10) and San Diego Padres (10). The White Sox and Padres have already clinched playoff spots and a winning record, while the Marlins are in second place in the NL East.

New York made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016 and went 86-76 last year.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: LHP Jose Alvarado (shoulder, lat) is scheduled to throw batting practice to 3B Yandy Diaz (hamstring) and 1B Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) at Tropicana Field on Thursday. Cash said all three players are progressing and he hopes they are available for the playoffs. . Brousseau (oblique) missed a fourth consecutive game. Cash said he would have been available off the bench if needed

Mets: RF Michael Conforto (hamstring) returned to the lineup as the designated hitter after missing two games and went 0 for 4. . The Mets activated RHP Dellin Betances (lat), who last pitched Aug. 29, and optioned RHP Corey Oswalt to the alternate site.

UP NEXT

Rays: After a day off Thursday, Morton (2-2, 4.64 ERA) is scheduled to get his postseason tuneup in the opener of a series against the Phillies on Friday.

Mets: Rookie LHP David Peterson (5-2, 3.80 ERA) opens a four-game road series against the Nationals. Peterson struck out a career-high 10 against the Braves last Saturday.