Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association finalized a return-to-play plan on June 23.
In the interest of health and safety for players and personnel, there will be some new rules and procedures, and here is a handy guide to it all:
When does the season start?
After the July 1 report date and an abbreviated Summer Camp, the regular season will begin with Opening Night on July 23, followed by Opening Day on July 24.
How many games will be played?
Each team will play 60 games. To limit travel distances, teams will play a majority of games against their division opponents (40, or 10 against each division opponent) and the rest against their geographic counterpart in the other league (in other words, AL East vs. NL East, AL Central vs. NL Central, AL West vs. NL West).
What is the postseason format?
Just before the start of the 2020 regular season, MLB and the MLBPA came to an agreement on an expanded postseason format featuring 16 teams (eight from each league). The postseason will begin with four best-of-three Wild Card Series in each league (so eight total), with the higher-seeded team hosting all three games. The winners of those series advance to the best-of-five Division Series. The winners of the Division Series advance to the best-of-seven League Championship Series. The winners of the LCS advance to the World Series.
Will the designated hitter be used in both leagues?
Yes. Though the universal DH for both 2020 and 2021 was part of a proposal rejected by the players, it remains a piece of the 2020 health and safety protocols. With an abbreviated Summer Camp, an effort is being made not to overtax pitchers by having them hit.
So for now, it is possible that the NL could return to its traditional rules with pitchers hitting again in 2021.
Where will camps take place?
Clubs are conducting Summer Camp at the ballparks in their home cities (not their Spring Training facilities).
Will there still be a Trade Deadline?
Yes. But instead of July 31, it will be Aug. 31. Players must be on a club's roster by Sept. 15 in order to be eligible for postseason play.
What will the rosters look like?
To help ease players into competition, each club started the season with a 30-man roster for the first two weeks. Originally, teams had to cut their 28-player rosters down to 26 for the rest of the season by Aug. 20, but after an agreement between MLB and the Players Association, the 28-man rosters will remain in place through the World Series.
Additionally, each club can carry up to a five-person taxi squad on the road.
Teams will have 60 players eligible to play in 2020 -- all players on a 40-man roster “that the Club anticipates participating” during the season will be part of the player pool, with the rest made up of non-40-man roster players under contract.
Will there be any in-game rule changes?
With a tight schedule and a desire to limit time on the field, the Minor League rule for extra innings will be in effect. That means every half-inning after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base. The designated runner would be the player who made the final out in the prior half-inning (or a pinch-runner for that player), and the pitcher would not be charged with an earned run if that runner scores (it would be scored as if the runner had reached on an error).
Please note that this rule is only in place for 2020 and only in effect for the regular season. Extra innings in the postseason would not begin with a runner on second.
Anything else related to gameplay I should know?
Yes, a few things to note.
1. Position players pitching: There was supposed to be a new restriction for 2020 that said position players could only pitch if the game was in extra innings or their team was ahead or trailing by more than six runs. There will be no such requirement for this season.
2. Three-batter minimum: This is an offseason rule change for 2020 that will remain. Relievers who enter the game must face at least three batters or finish an inning before being removed (with exceptions for injury or illness).
3. Suspended games: If a game gets cut short due to weather before it becomes official (less than five innings), it will be continued at a later date rather than started from scratch.
What protocols will be in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Among the most pertinent measures are as follows:
• Players, coaches and support staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day during Summer Camp, the regular season and postseason.
• Players will receive temperature/symptom checks twice per day.
• Antibody testing will be conducted once per month.
• Social distancing will be encouraged as much as possible both on the field and off. Players and other team personnel not participating in the game will be sitting in the stands, at least six feet apart.
• Non-playing personnel must wear masks in the dugout and bullpen at all times.
• No pregame exchange of lineup cards.
• No celebratory contact (high-fives, fist bumps, hugs, etc.).
• No spitting or chewing of tobacco and/or sunflower seeds. Chewing gum is allowed.
• A ball will be thrown out once it has been touched by multiple players.
• Fights are strictly prohibited.
What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?
There will be a COVID-19 related injured list, with no minimum or maximum length of placement. A player may be placed on that list based on a positive COVID-19 test or confirmed exposure or if a player exhibits symptoms requiring self-isolation for further assessment. Any player who tests positive will not be allowed to return until he tests negative twice.
What about the regular injured list?
Rather than a 10-day injured list for position players and 15-day injured list for pitchers, there will be a 10-day injured list for all players in the shortened season. The 60-day injured list will be reduced to 45 days.
What if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a team's city?
MLB has the right to relocate teams -- in the regular season and postseason -- to neutral sites for health and safety reasons.