PHILAELPHIA -- Put away the asterisks.
If, somehow, Major League Baseball crosses the finish line of a 60-game season and playoffs, there need not be a question about the legitimacy of the eventual champion. Because that last team standing, no matter how unlikely, would have overcome more challenges – and in less time – than any World Series winner that came before.
Forget about which team's roster has the most WAR. The real fight will be to stay healthy amid COVID-19, which just so happens is wreaking havoc in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California – baseball hotbeds that are home to 10 major-league teams.
Talent will matter, as always. It will be surpassed, though, by two other requirements for success: depth and discipline.
There's a reason teams are being allowed to invite as many as 60 players – twice the capacity of expanded opening-day rosters – to "spring training 2.0," slated to begin next week in cities across the country (and possibly Toronto) after players and staff complete intake testing and self-quarantines.
Moreover, Article 6.1.8 in MLB's 101-page operations manual – the establishment of a "COVID-19 Related Injured List" – wasn't written as merely a topical reference in an exhaustive playbook for staging a season in the midst of a global pandemic that has infected nearly 2.5 million people in the United States.
Players are going to get sick. There's no getting around it. Some will test positive when they show up for training camp.
The Philadelphia Phillies were adhering to strict precautions at their spring-training facility, according to several people familiar with the protocols, and yet seven players and five staff members still tested positive (and had symptoms) this month in baseball's largest-known coronavirus outbreak. Three Colorado Rockies players tested positive this week; the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Seattle Mariners also have announced positive tests.
It's going to happen. And when COVID-19 does infiltrate a clubhouse, the infected players will need to be isolated (a two-week quarantine represents roughly 20% of the season) and replaced. It follows, then, that the 31st- to 40th-best players on every roster could have as much impact on the season as the top-30.
Where does that leave the Phillies?