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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

With more MLB schedule chaos, could 55 games be the new 60?

Yankees reliever Zack Britton is on the union's

Yankees reliever Zack Britton is on the union's executive subcommittee and is hopeful (but realistic) about every team getting through 60 games.   Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For the most part, the Mets and Yankees had been able to avoid the turbulence generated by baseball’s brush with the coronavirus.

They didn’t get marooned in a city, like the Marlins, or have their schedule mercilessly stacked with doubleheaders, as the Cardinals did.

Then came Thursday, when everything changed for both clubs.

The Mets got the worst of it. After learning that a player and coach tested positive for COVID-19 in Miami, they were deprived of a chance at a four-game sweep of the Marlins and returned to New York via a fully quarantined charter flight.

Masked up in N95 respirators, the Mets wondered what awaited them with more days of tests ahead. Not long after they touched down, this weekend’s Subway Series at Citi Field also was wiped out.

The Mets’ misfortune also made victims of the Yankees, who were eager to shake off a miserable sweep by the visiting Rays — and three more players sent to the IL — with the trip to Flushing. Instead, Aaron Boone & Co. have remained in limbo, which was not entirely unfamiliar, given their rescheduling on the fly during the season’s second week.

To date, the Mets had played 26 games, the Yankees 25. Pretty much on pace for this 60-game season. But this lost weekend now puts them behind, and for the Mets, it could be even longer. The club did get good news Saturday night, however, as there were no new positives among their traveling party, as well as the close contacts to the infected player and coach who stayed in Miami.

Even so, when the Mets will return to the field remains unclear. And since the Marlins’ outbreak paused their season July 27, all 30 teams have yet to play on the same day. MLB almost pulled it off Wednesday before the Nationals and Braves were rained out in Atlanta.

Despite the semi-regular chaos caused by the virus, this season hasn’t been as bad as some feared regarding the delays.

“I’ve actually been surprised in that we haven’t had more, honestly,” said the Yankees’ Zack Britton, who helped craft this once-a-century season as a member of the union’s executive subcommittee. “So for us as a team, I think things are going pretty well, considering.

“For the competitive balance, I knew that was going to be tricky going into this year. And so if we want to have perfect competitive balances, I don’t think that’s going to be there in this season due to the protocols that we have if guys test positive and things like that.”

One positive test has been enough to shut down a team for a minimum of four days, based on what happened with the Reds earlier this month. For multiple positives, the cost in games can be staggering, as the Cardinals had 18 games postponed by their outbreaks and the Marlins had 10, including a switch of a series to Baltimore along the way.

For now, MLB intends to push for all these games to be played, primarily because the new postseason format is going to allow 16 teams for the first time, up from the previous 10, and it’s best to have the seeding done by record rather than winning percentage.

“Our goal is just to try to play 60 games,” Britton said. “And if we all play 60 games, I think it’s fair enough for us to get into the playoffs. But as far as competitive balance like it would be in a normal season, I just don’t think that’s going to be there, so I’m not going to try to compare this season to past seasons. I’m just going to try to look at it as, let’s all try to play 60 games if we can. I think that’s the best that we can ask for in this season.”

That’s the answer to all the crazy this year: it’s 2020. Baseball, more than any sport, has a real problem with change, so this season drives some fan demographics bonkers. Trim a game to seven innings, for the sake of more player-friendly doubleheaders, and such a move is labeled treason.

Get over it. MLB, with the union’s consent, is doing whatever is necessary to squeeze these games in. Now the Yankees and Mets will be feeling just a little more of that pressure. Both will be battling for a playoff spot. And I can only imagine the outcry if either position is adversely affected by another team’s winning percentage.

Or maybe they end up with that benefit. It’s still too early to tell.

“I think you would have to really look at the winning percentage,” Britton said. “I mean, to be fair, because the reality is the teams that have had issues, every player on those teams deserves an opportunity to get to the postseason as well as anybody.

“Everyone is sacrificing a lot. Just because, let’s say, a couple of guys unfortunately have tested positive on other teams, that doesn’t mean the whole team should be impacted and not allowed to get to the playoffs because they didn’t reach 60 games. Hopefully, we can get in 60 games for every team, but it looks like it might be difficult.”

Difficult? For sure. But once you factor in weather and the likelihood of more virus-related disruptions, impossible is the better word.

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