Dave Martinez COVID-19 outbreak
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Dave Martinez on COVID-19 outbreak: ‘I’m scared. I really am.’

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Asked on Monday about the Marlins’ recent COVID-19 outbreak, which resulted in Monday’s Orioles-Marlins and Yankees-Phillies games to be postponed, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said (via Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post), “I’ll be honest with you, I’m scared. I really am.” He told the media via Zoom that he considers the players family and he’s lost a lot of sleep this month worrying about their health and safety.

Martinez, you may recall, underwent a cardiac catheterization last September. With the Nationals scheduled to travel to Miami to open a three-game series against the Marlins on July 31, Martinez said of Major League Baseball, “Hopefully they make the right decision. That’s all I’m going to say.” Martinez appears to be alluding to Major League Baseball postponing or cancelling the season, which they are not yet doing.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodríguez is believed to be dealing with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported on Friday. Rodríguez tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. Myocarditis has been a documented symptom of COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health. Along with the risk of death, people who get COVID-19 are at risk for a wide range of debilitating health outcomes. Some have needed amputations, some have developed blood clots, some have suffered brain damage. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman got COVID-19 and was on the lighter end of the outcomes spectrum, but his wife said, “This virus hit him like a ton of bricks.” When he spiked a 104.5 fever, Freeman prayed, “Please don’t take me.”

Martinez is one of a not-insignificant amount of players and coaches who are at varying degrees of increased risk to the coronavirus. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, for example, also has a heart condition. David Dahl had his spleen removed. Carlos Carrasco had leukemia. Cubs teammates Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are cancer survivors. This is without mentioning the at-risk clubhouse attendants, bus/Uber drivers, food delivery people, hotel concierges, as well as everyone’s families and other people with whom they may live or have close contact.

Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius has a chronic kidney disorder. Marlins manager Don Mattingly deferred to his players, who voted via group text to play Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia even though four members of the team had tested positive for COVID-19 at that point. Shortstop Miguel Rojas said not playing was “never our mentality.”

Just three games into the season, it is patently obvious that playing out even an abbreviated 60-game regular season (with an expanded postseason) will be quite risky. And the players have shown that they can’t be counted on to make good decisions on behalf of the most at-risk members of their community. It’s no surprise, after all, as players are taught from an early age to be fearless and to play through adversity. If MLB insists on pressing forward, it should have an independent panel of arbitrators — ideally respected professionals in the field of virology and epidemiology — to determine whether it is safe to continue playing after certain events, such as players testing positive for COVID-19.

Back on March 11, the NBA immediately shut down when Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The other sports leagues soon followed. We’re now at over 80 positive tests for COVID-19 across the league since MLB returned to action at the beginning of July, but no cancellation yet. On March 11, the virus hadn’t yet taken off in the U.S. It would hit a peak at 39,123 new cases on April 24 and the U.S. appeared to be slowly flattening the curve, hitting a low of 19,400 on May 26, the day after Memorial Day, when many people traveled to beaches or otherwise had social gatherings. Bars and restaurants had already opened at the beginning of May in some states and other states were not far behind. As a result, the graph started to move in the wrong direction. June 26 saw a peak of 47,365 new cases. July 10 saw 72,278 new cases. This past Friday, the 24th, saw about 78,000 new cases.

Even with the best of intentions, Major League Baseball needed the U.S. government and U.S. citizens to get a handle on the virus to facilitate a safe return to play. When the owners and the MLBPA were negotiating in May and June, it looked like that might have been the case. The last month has been brutal. The U.S. will pass 150,000 total COVID-19 deaths at some point today.

Martinez is right to be scared. And he is almost certainly not alone. If MLB doesn’t put the season on hold, we may see players drop out. Prior to the start of the season, 17 players opted out (high-risk) or elected not to play. The beginning of the season has already been marred by injuries to star pitchers (Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg). Some teams, like the Marlins, will have to play extremely short-handed. The Braves are without their top two catchers. The Nationals are without young superstar Juan Soto. The Blue Jays are retrofitting a Triple-A stadium in Buffalo as their temporary home. There will be more positive tests and more postponed games. At some point, the season loses its competitive integrity and becomes a farce. The question is how many players will have to get sick before MLB realizes this?

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”