Though some execs are publicly maintaining hope that MLB can still complete a full 162-game schedule, most people around the league reportedly believe it won’t return until May. As implausible as a full season may be from a logistical standpoint, it leaves open the possibility that the Cubs could still participate against the Cardinals in the London Series in mid-June.
“As of now it’s on,” Epstein told the Chicago Tribune back on March 4. “If they tell us not to go, I’m sure it will be a decision they make regretfully but with information that that’s the right course of action. I’m not spending a lot of time (on it). I’m not an expert. It’s important for us to rely on experts and be really transparent.”
Kind of a lot’s changed since then, however, and the global response to COVID-19 may have an even greater impact on those games in London than anything MLB or the participating teams do. According to a Bloomberg article, the U.K. government is combating the spread of the virus with “modest steps that fall far short of measures taken in other countries.”
Chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance has said publicly that the goal is not to completely suppress the outbreak, but to reduce and broaden its peak in an effort to build “herd immunity.” Vallance claims that it may take a 60% infection rate to accomplish that goal, which could take months to reach. Of course, that ignores the reality that herd immunity is a function of mass vaccinations, so waiting on 40 million Brits to catch the coronavirus in lieu of a vaccine seems like a not-great plan.
Based on the current trend of infection, U.K. government officials estimate that the peak of the outbreak may come in about 10-14 weeks. Assuming that is accurate, the window is somewhere from late May to mid-June. That’s if they continue to keep schools open and allow large sporting events to keep taking place in stadiums, which Vallance believes carries less risk of transmission than fans watching together in pubs.
While adopting stricter measures of containment would “flatten the curve” to a greater degree, it appears very likely at this point that London may not be considered safe for American teams and fans by the scheduled dates of the series. It should also be noted that we don’t know how this virus will behave and what impact these precautionary measures will have either here or abroad, so it’s possible the whole pandemic will have fallen off by the end of April.
I’d be willing to bet good money that team officials are at least as skeptical as I am about the London Series happening, but the myriad unknowns mean we probably won’t have concrete information for several weeks. Until then, I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed that I’ll still be able to head out there and swing through Iceland on the way back.
Update: The US will extend its travel ban to the U.K. and Ireland as of Monday at midnight EST. A ban on 26 other European countries that are members of the Schengen free movement zone went into effect on Saturday.
Update 2: Still nothing concrete, but it sounds as though the belief among MLB execs is that a May return might be wishful thinking at this point.
The hoped-for April 9 MLB start date was always seen as a best-case scenario, and with developments over the past few days, based on talks with several execs today anytime before June would be viewed as welcome.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 15, 2020